EU promises every town and village in Europe will be connected by 2020, 5G for all by 2025

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The European Union has vowed to equip the centre of every European village and city with free wireless internet by 2020 and have 5G across the continent by 2025.

In a downbeat speech in the wake of the UK's decision to leave the European Union, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the political union faced an existential crisis.

Juncker said greater work needed to be done to empower European citizens and their economies, particularly as the latter shifts to digital.

He described high-speed internet as an essential part of this. He added: "We need to be connected. Our economy needs it. People need it. And we have to invest in that connectivity now.

"That is why today, the Commission is proposing a reform for our European telecommunications markets. We want to create a new legal framework that attracts and enables investments in connectivity.

"Businesses should be able to plan their investments in Europe for the next 20 years. Because if we invest in new networks and services, that is at least 1.3 million new jobs over the next decade."

This new framework could underpin the deployment of 5G. Juncker promised the technology would be fully deployed across the continent by 2025. Operators are already working on pre-5G deployments ahead of expected rollouts towards the end of this decade.

Juncker said by investing in new networks and services, 1.3 million jobs could be created over the next 10 years, in addition to two million jobs he is predicting 5G will bring.

A central part of this will be connecting towns and villages, although it is unclear whether it is Wi-Fi or cellular that would form the basis of this project. Juncker said: "Everyone benefiting from connectivity means that it should not matter where you live or how much you earn."

In July, a consortium of operators warned the rollout of 5G could be delayed if EU proposals on net neutrality go ahead.

Responding to the speech, Markus Reinisch, Public Policy Director, and Grégoire Verdeaux, International Policy Director, Vodafone Group, said: "Regarding the critical topic of spectrum – the oxygen fuelling Europe’s mobile networks and an essential resource for the evolution of 5G and the Internet of Things – we welcome the Commission’s determination to resolve the spectrum gridlock caused by fragmented policies across the EU.

"However, the proposal stops short of achieving the full harmonisation of spectrum management and indefinite spectrum licences. We encourage European institutions to be bold in in seeking to resolve this issue."

Under the terms of last year's Digital Single Market reforms, the EU has proposed more harmonised spectrum policy and incentives to bring high-speed broadband to more parts of the continent.

However, telcos has urged the Commission to move faster in its market reforms.

Juncker also revealed that the Commission's new plans for roaming charges would be published next week, after proposals to allow customers to roam for a minimum of 90 days every year caused anger when they were released last week.