European CEOs make latest plea to EU for help making 5G a reality

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CEOs from some of Europe's biggest operators are calling for a new industrial policy to support the telecoms industry, helping it to reduce costs and relax trade barriers.

Executives from Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica and Telia Company, among others, are participating in the latest ETNO summit in Brussels today.

In a joint statement, they said the advent of 5G and artificial intelligence was tearing up the rulebook for how the telecoms industry operates.

Operators are facing a capex squeeze with annual spending up five percent on average and total investment exceeding €47 billion. Without adequate returns, they said this spending would be unsustainable in the longer term.

They estimated the value of the EU data economy will be €739 billion by 2020 or four percent of the union's total GDP. This sector will be underpinned by mobile networks, they added.

The CEOs said the continent would require a fresh approach to encourage the development of 5G networks and keep it competing effectively with Asia, which is forecast to have 900 million 5G users by 2025, compared to 178 million in Europe.

[Read more: Europe set to be tardy to 5G party, claims new research]

In a three-pronged plea, the CEOs said governments should prioritise the development of new services and infrastructure to promote investment an innovation.

Secondly, Europe should reduce the costs of rolling out and operating networks, such as slashing energy bills, cutting the red tape of deploying infrastructure or reducing the time needed to gain permits.

Finally, the EU should promise any new market regulation should not erect new barriers to innovation and investment.

Tim Hoettges, CEO of Deutsche Telekom, said: “Fiber and 5G are of strategic importance for Europe. We are prepared to deliver, but the network business needs to be self-sustaining. A joint effort by industry, policymakers and regulators would facilitate a faster roll-out.”

Last week Deutsche Telekom said it would spend €20 billion to bring 5G to 99 percent of the German population by 2025.

José María Álvarez Pallete, CEO of Telefónica, said: “The telecom sector is at the epicentre of the current technology revolution. Yet European operators risk losing global relevance.

"To preserve European competitiveness in a global digital world, European policymakers must radically change the regulatory paradigm to encourage investment and innovation.”

Stéphane Richard, CEO of Orange, added: “We have a strategic role to play in supporting Europe’s digital transformation to overcome technological and ethical challenges on such critical topics as 5G, IoT or AI.

"A new industrial policy, favouring a regulatory shift on network deployment and a level playing field on digital services, is key to keep Europe in the race with the USA and China.”