Europe’s Gigabit Infrastructure Act

January 4, 2022 | By Abel Mayal

Due to be announced in the coming weeks, the Gigabit Infrastructure Act is the European Commission’s flagship proposal for communications. The legislation will provide the framework for Member States to expand their 5G and broadband / Very High Capacity Network coverage to meet the targets of the European Digital Decade.  

Why Europe urgently needs a connectivity framework  

While Europe stands united in many respects, it is divided in providing its citizens with a seamless and uniform standard of connectivity. Rates of 5G coverage vary vastly across the bloc, from over 80% in France and Italy, to less than 20% in Sweden and Hungary. In total,  72% of Europeans are covered by 5G networks, compared to 80% in the USA and over 90% in China.  

This can be due to a variety of factors; levels of investment by domestic networks, geographic factors such as mountains and rural areas, and the ease with which new network infrastructure can be deployed without bureaucratic hurdles. However, the lack of harmonization is a key factor limiting the speed of network rollout – this is what the Gigabit Infrastructure Act will finally address.  

Infrastructure as the key to growth  

Connectivity, and 5G in particular, will form the cornerstone of the Industry 4.0 transition, underpinning the development of connected and autonomous manufacture and transportation. 5G will also enable the digital transformation of public services, whether emergency communications (E112), eGovernance systems, or the next generation of IDs and digital wallets being implemented across the EU. European initiatives such as electronic ID (eID) will require faster and more resilient connectivity to be truly universal and accessible to all citizens at all times.  

However large telcos are currently heavily reliant on existing vendors, who have the ability to set higher prices, and must follow slow, fragmented processes that hinder development. Spectrum allocation, land rights, and construction costs all vary between European Member States. These processes also limit the ability for users to deploy more efficient and secure private networks.  

The Gigabit Infrastructure Act must contain measures to support vendor diversification, ensuring the future effectiveness of European networks, and driving greater innovation.  

Open RAN as a driver for better connectivity   

Open RAN and the innovation it brings will be vital to reducing barriers to entry, encouraging innovation, and ultimately driving down costs for deploying new infrastructure.  The flexibility of Open RAN allows for ports, warehouses, factories, hospitals, and other settings to deploy secure, strong networks that allow for greater automation and data sharing.  Lastly, Open RAN will also enable startups and accelerators developing autonomous and other technologies to rapidly prototype, test, and deploy their solutions in a secure environment, by using dedicated private networks.  Europe needs to take steps now to secure its future industry and technological security, and the Gigabit Infrastructure Act is a crucial first step on this road.