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Mobile World Congress: Europe will lose global ‘race for data’ without new 5G rules

Britain’s mobile companies could be prevented from offering next-generation data speeds because Europe lacks common standards on new “5G” technologies, according to operators.

Vodafone’s chief executive has called on politicians to agree policies for the future of Europe’s wireless data networks to close the gap on bigger global economies.

At Mobile World Congress, an industry gathering in Barcelona, Vittorio Colao said: “China and the US will lead, simply because we don’t yet have rules around spectrum and access that are uniform across Europe.”

It comes as companies from across the world, including Facebook, Nokia, Deutsche Telekom and SK Telecom are using the summit of 95,000 people to promote their plans for deploying 5G technology.

Facebook used the gathering to try to gain more sway over technical standards for 5G networks, with a “Telecoms Infra Project” it said would help operators and internet companies benefit from each others’ work.

Mobile companies are scrambling to be the first to build 5G networks, which they claim will hold the key to the “internet of things”. As well as being faster, it’s planned that 5G networks will be able to handle billions more connections, allowing more consumer and industrial devices to connect to the internet.

Operators claims our cars, homes and electricity networks will one day be wireless connected. 
But there are concerns that European countries cannot agree on a common definition of what 5G is – and that they lack access to the airwaves need to transmit ultra-fast data speeds.

EU officials present at the conference are already preparing regulations that will allow operators to access the airwaves needed to offer 5G data speeds to consumers and businesses.

Under current rules, radio spectrum is allocated by individual countries, at different times and at different frequencies, slowing the pace of investment. The European Union has sought to reassure mobile companies that spectrum issues will be addressed in its ongoing digital market review.

Pilar del Castillo, the EU rapporteur for a telecoms single market, argued that it is “crucial to eliminate current fragmentation” in regulations and pricing surrounding spectrum in Europe.
 “5G is a great opportunity to eliminate Europe’s fragmentation regarding the use and management of spectrum in the mobile industry,” she said.

But mobile operators are also facing a fresh challenge from outside industries keen to influence of 5G technologies.

Facebook said that it has already persuaded Intel, Nokia and Deutsche Telekom to work together to develop new hardware needed to build networks.

Jay Parikh, Facebook’s head of infrastructure, said “no one mobile company” can tackle the 5G roll-out alone. He added that the move from traditional 3G and 4G technologies is a “global data challenge  is not moving as fast as people need it to.”

But any collaboration between British telecoms companies to pool research and development resources may be far off.

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