BARCELONA, Spain - Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission's Digital Agenda, said there is more at stake in developing fifth generation (5G) technology than just meeting growing data traffic and demand for connectivity.
Speaking at the launch of the EU Partnership for 5G research at the Mobile World Congress trade show, Kroes said the next generation technology is essential to boost the region's economy, tackling youth unemployment, and generally showing the world that Europe remains at the forefront of technology innovation.
"For me, this is the most important event of the whole [MWC] conference…We are talking about an extremely important and fascinating development; talking about a digital industrial policy," Kroes said.
The Commissioner said youth unemployment is a key concern for her at present. While Kroes conceded the topic is a strange one for a mobile industry trade show, her point was that technology is an important way to tackle economic problems, including the fact that youth unemployment has hit 70 per cent and over in some countries.
"Can a society accept that?... You can't," she said.
Kroes said there are still "great opportunities" in Europe, but noted the region needs to get "back in the driving seat" of technology innovation. The telco industry has an important part to play in achieving that goal, because it is the sector that links industries, including connected vehicles, energy and utilities, and microelectronics.
"You need a healthy telco sector…otherwise it is over. They [the industries] can't perform," she said.
Kroes noted the telecoms industry is already rising to the challenge, pledging to increase a planned European Union investment of €700 million in 5G research by five times, so ensuring "there is now billions of Euros available," for the technology's development as part of the 5G research programme.
The EU's scheme is being run in conjunction with the 5G Infrastructure PPP, whose partners include Nokia Solutions and Networks (NSN), Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, and Orange. However, speakers from each company conceded none of them know what 5G will actually be.
Ulf Ewaldsson, chief technology officer at Ericsson, explained that despite the lack of clarity, it is important for the industry to cooperate to develop "the next G". He referred to similar joint efforts on GSM in the early 1990s, work he said has laid the foundation for today's wireless industry.
"The networked society is something that, I think, the whole industry is embracing and understanding from all kinds of different perspectives. The technologies for that will have some key fundamental pillars that are built up in the research work in the early understandings of what 5G might be. "[W]e don't know what it is yet, but we're going to research and find out what it's really about."
NSN's chief technology officer, Hossein Moiin, added the partnership is in the early stages of its research, but it does know which direction it is heading in.
"In the past our networks were designed to become cheaper, to become fast. In the future, in my view, we also need to make them more intelligent. We need to make sure they can carry not only traffic from point-to-point, but also carry traffic intelligently so they can be used not only for communication between people, but for a wide range [of services]."
Kroes rounded out the launch by noting 5G development is not all about Europe. "It's talking about a global exercise, and we need to be aware about that. Dynamically adaptable issues like 5G," require a global response, she said.
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