Operators slam EU's timid, grim approach to 5G

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The European Union is taking a "timid" approach to 5G, increasing rules and complexity, and risking a "grim" environment for the technology, operators have said.

Ahead of a meeting of EU telecoms ministers tomorrow (9 June), the GSMA, the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association, and bodies representing the healthcare, cable television and software and digital technology industries have written a joint letter saying the draft European Electronic Communication Code needed greater ambition in reforming the telecoms market. Ministers are set to discuss amendments to the code when they meet tomorrow.

The joint letter said reforms did not go far enough in bringing about an investment friendly regulatory framework, helping build "pro-innovation" conditions to foster the development of IoT networks, creating a "harmonised and predictable" spectrum policy and rolling out privacy requirements that would also aid innovation.

It said: "At present, despite some positive elements, we are afraid that discussions in the European Parliament and Council have largely overlooked these aspects in favour of a more timid approach that will do little to improve Europe’s chances of success. Currently, the outlook for innovators appears quite grim. There little focus on easing regulatory burdens; on the contrary, there are plans to further increase rules and complexity. This extends to both the Electronic Communications Code and to the new ePrivacy Regulation.

"Our Associations therefore call on all the EU institutions to maintain a high level of ambition to ensure that the strategic 5G objectives remain at the core of Europe’s digital reforms. The upcoming regulatory choices on telecoms and privacy laws need to be fully coherent with the overarching aim of increasing network investment, allowing more space for innovation, boosting the competitiveness of Europe’s vertical industries and creating further choice for European consumers."

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In a separate statement, the GSMA said reform of spectrum policy is "essential" for Europe to achieve ambition in 5G. In particular, it said spectrum licences should last at least 25 years with a strong chance of renewal. EU member states should also coordinate and cooperate on spectrum policy.

The trade body also warned against "overly burdensome" regulation of the sector. It said the Internet of Things was changing what connectivity means, arguing that a pet tracker or connected fridge did not count as either an internet access service or "interpersonal communications service". It said regulations related to those two areas needed to be ditched for specific sectors or use cases.

Afke Schaart, Vice President Europe, GSMA, said: “As the EU’s Telecoms Ministers prepare for tomorrow’s meeting, we encourage them to carefully consider the impact of regulation, and particularly the long-term effect it will have on innovation and investment in Europe.

“We have one opportunity to get this right – the right regulation can propel Europe into the future, whilst protecting consumers and encouraging innovation in this sector – the ideal outcome for all.”

Other co-signatories of the letter included the European Coordination Committee of the Radiological, Electromedical and healthcare IT industry, cable TV body Cable Europe, Developers Alliance, and digital technology industry body DIGITALEUROPE.