EU member states will miss the 2020 5G deadline and there’s not much Brussels can do about it
Sep 29, 2020 by Manuel R. Marti


European countries have long claimed to be global leaders in mobile technology. However, after severe delays in spectrum assignments, Europe’s 5G strategy is running into serious problems. 

The European Union had envisaged that all member states would auction licences in the 700 MHz, 3.5 GHz and 26 GHz bands and each designate at least one large city for 5G by the end of 2020.

But with the deadlines just around the corner, only two of them—Finland and Italy—have assigned spectrum in all three bands. 

Earlier this year, COVID-19 forced a significant number of countries to postpone their 5G auctions, although many of them had not had any awards scheduled prior to the outbreak.

Despite the European Commission’s warnings, figures suggest that hopes of a miraculous recovery to accomplish its 5G objectives are misplaced. EU countries and the UK have assigned on average only 27.5 per cent of all three frequency bands.

Brussels is refusing to concede defeat, in public at least.

The deadlines regarding the authorisation of 5G bands will not be changed, nor will the acceptable reasons for delay be modified, PolicyTracker has learned.

Last week, the Commission pressed ahead with its plans and published a Recommendation on how member states can achieve the Union’s connectivity objectives, avoiding further delays.

Will EU countries suddenly speed up spectrum assignments and meet this year’s deadlines? That seems unlikely.

One source familiar with the matter says that the Commission does have enforcement powers for the implementation of the deadlines regarding the authorisation of 5G bands. (But there is a little wiggle room on page 141 of the European Electronic Communications Code….)

What can European diplomats do to accelerate auctions which in some cases have been held off due to lack of demand? Not much.

Brussels has previously threatened member states with legal action if they fail to put the spectrum on the market.

Will now the Commission pursue a battle against the same countries that are scrambling to combat the coronavirus? That seems very unlikely.

This troubling picture is in stark contrast to the desire of Brussels to lead on 5G.