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5G commercial networks, present throughout the European Union, except Portugal and Lithuania


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All the countries that make up the European Union already have commercial 5G networks, with the exception of Portugal and Lithuania, and there are a dozen 5G corridors that cross different European borders, according to the quarterly report of the European 5G Observatory that has just been made public, with data until the end of October. The allocations of the medium bands of 3.6 GHz and the low bands of 700 MHz have progressed in the last half year, with 71% and 61%, respectively, but it is far from the objective of the 5G Action Plan of five years ago , and especially in the 26 GHz band. All European capitals and large urban centers are covered with 5G, at least in part, although the average coverage of the population is estimated to be only 14%, says the report.


The implementation of the commercial 5G service is wide at the level of European countries, although the same cannot be said in terms of coverage, which is only very high in Denmark and the Netherlands, with 80% of the population covered in each of these two countries, according to the European Commission, and 50% in Austria. In the rest of the countries of the European Union, 5G coverage is very low, with an average of 14%. Spain is in the middle range, with approximately 12%, and similar to Nordic countries such as Sweden or Finland. Italy, although it was the first European country to auction 5G licenses and in the three priority bands and with a very high amount, it has little coverage, estimated at 8%.


The quarterly report of the European 5G Observatory, which has just been published and which analyzes the situation of 5G networks commissioned by the European Commission until the end of last month, highlights the additional deployments of commercial 5G networks that have occurred in the last twelve months and the almost complete allocation of the auctioned licenses. Portugal completed last month the auction of licenses in multiple bands from 700 MHz to 3.6 GHz, for an amount of 566 million euros, and Lithuania, the last remaining in the European Union to be auctioned on any of the assigned frequencies for 5G, it is expected to do so in the first quarter of 2022, with which one or more priority frequencies for 5G will already be assigned in all the countries of the European Union.

The two 5G frequencies mostly assigned in the European Union are 700 MHz and 3.6 GHz, as is the case in Spain, but the 26 GHz frequencies must still be assigned in many European countries.

The two frequencies that are mostly assigned in the European Union are 700 MHz and 3.6 GHz, as is the case in Spain, but also France, Austria and several Eastern European countries. Germany and Italy are the only two Western European countries that are also assigned the 26 GHz band, as is the case with Greece, Finland, Croatia or Slovenia. The situation in Belgium is a bit special, because the operator Proximus introduced the first commercial 5G services in April last year, but in the 2.1 GHz band.


The situation in the Netherlands is also particular, because T-Mobile and KPN operate only in the 700 MHz band and VodafoneZiggo in the 800 MHz to 2.6 GHz bands via shared dynamic spectrum technology with 4G networks. This means that in Holland there is a great coverage, but in the low bands. The situation is once again peculiar in Poland and the Baltic countries, because they have 5G services only in the 700 MHz or 2.1 GHz bands. In Spain it is the opposite, at the moment only 5G works in the 3.5 GHz band ; the 700 MHz licenses were auctioned last July, for an amount of 1,000 million euros, but they have yet to be activated. In the color map of the lower graph, at the bottom right, you can see the different situation of the various countries of the European Union.

Globally, 52.7% of the 5G priority bands have been assigned, although the distribution is uneven. The priority band for 5G, 3.6 GHz, has been assigned in 70.9% of the countries, while the low band of 700 MHz has been a little less, 61.1%, as shown in the graph Of the report. The 26 GHz band, which has not been launched in any European country, is assigned in 25.9% of the countries (Germany, Italy, Finland, Greece, Slovenia and Croatia).

China and South Korea dominate in 5G

Europe lags far behind on 5G, as is the United States, when compared to China and South Korea. The bottom graph of the report shows the notable differences in 5G penetration in China, South Korea, Japan, the United States and the European Union. China has by far the most base stations, 916,000, followed by South Korea with 162,000 5G base stations. The large population difference between the two countries causes that in South Korea there are 319 people per base station while in China the proportion rises to 1,531 people per base station, despite having almost six times more base stations distributed throughout the country.


Japan, despite having had commercial 5G services for just over a year, already has 50,000 5G base stations, the same as in the entire United States, which started 5G services in April 2019. The relatively low number of base stations existing in Japan touch 2,516 people per station on average, a proportion one and a half times higher than in China. In the United States, as it has two and a half times the population of Japan and the same number of base stations, it touches 6,590 Americans per station. In the European Union, the graph indicates that there are 106,000 stations, representing 4,224 Europeans per 5G base station.


Operators jealously guard the number of users who are subscribed to their 5G services, except in the case of China and South Korea, which, as they are high, are indicated by their corresponding ministries. South Korea has 17 million 5G users while Ericsson estimates that China has ten times more 5G users than South Korea. An estimate based on the latest official data from China and its operators indicates that China may have about 300 million 5G users, and that they own a 5G smartphone.

Japan, according to the top graph with data from the Japan Times newspaper, has 14.19 million 5G users, while Insider Intelligence estimated that at the end of last year there were 15.8 million in the United States and, for Ericsson on the same dates, about 14 million, including Canada. The situation has changed a lot in recent months, especially in the number of users with a 5G smartphone (basically an iPhone 12 and 13), but not so much from real users to high-speed 5G networks. In the European Union, Ericsson estimated last year that there are about eight million 5G users (the opacity of the operators makes it difficult to compare data, although few Europeans know people who use 5G services, even if they are subscribed to these services by default) .

Low coverage and users in Europe

The Observatory report includes a graph of 5G coverage according to the population of each country in the European Union, extracted in turn from a report by the European Commission for the year 2020. The average 5G coverage in the European Union is 14%, as indicated at the beginning, although there is a lot of disparity. More than half of the countries have practically zero 5G coverage, while two countries (Denmark and the Netherlands) have 80%. Austria follows, with 50%, Ireland with 30% and Germany with 18%.


Here are a few countries with coverage between 13 and 10%, such as Sweden, Spain with 12%, Finland, Romania and Poland. Somewhat behind the 10% are Italy, Hungary and Belgium, while the remaining fourteen have hardly any coverage. Among them is France, because it must be taken into account that the data is from 2020 and France did not start having 5G services until the end of 2020.

Source: European Commission 

The coverage data are now higher but, in the absence of data from the operators, it is difficult to follow the evolution as well as the number of users. In the Observatory’s report, the data referring to Spain are not very specific and it is warned that the operators have not confirmed them and echo various unofficial communications, most of them known but not verified either.

Private networks and verticals are still in an embryonic state, partly due to the delay in the approval of Release 16, to Release 17 that still needs to be definitively approved and, also, because of the pandemic

Thus, it is said that Vodafone Spain, after launching the 3.7 GHz 5G service in June 2019, one of the first to do so in Europe, its network covered half of the population in April 2021 (without specifying which areas or cities). Regarding Telefónica, it is ensured that its network covers 80% of the Spanish population, citing a journalistic report from RCR Wireless from last April, which is based in turn on a statement from Telefónica and statements from its president. As for Orange, the commitment by 2022 is to reach 90% of the population with a combination of 5G NSA and DSS. For MasMóvil, coverage will be similar to that of Orange until 2028, under a 5G network sharing agreement.


In the rest of the countries, the lack of specificity is the similar trend, due, as has been pointed out, to the little interest of the operators when it comes to providing data. In addition, the term “coverage” itself is very imprecise, because it is not the same depending on the frequency the signal reaches in the area in question, or if it is shared with a 4G network thanks to DSS technology or the intensity of the signal. sign. At 700 MHz, the coverage radius is very wide and there is little loss of signal with distance or obstacles, but at 3.7 GHz the signal becomes very weak as the user moves away from the antenna.


In any case, very exhaustive studies are not necessary to conclude that 5G coverage in most European countries is very low, even though they have had commercial 5G service in the country for a long time, and that the use of 5G services much more, either due to lack of coverage or because a compatible 5G terminal has not been purchased. The same occurs with the 5G Stand Alone (5G SA) networks that are practically non-existent in the European Union. It is expected, however, that the situation within a year will be very different and 5G services will begin to take off in the European Union.


The services that are used massively, both in Spain and in the rest of European countries, are 4G mobile networks, with an increase in mobile data traffic that increases month by month. In Spain, in addition, many offices and homes have a good high-speed Internet connection and adjusted rates, apart from the fact that 4G networks operate at high speed and coverage is practically total, which means that there are not many wishes for join 5G.

Private and vertical networks in testing

The report reviews the situation of private networks and their uses in certain areas with a high concentration of business users, such as ports, commonly called verticals. The report acknowledges that verticals are still in their early growth phase. The delay in the approval of Release 16, until the beginning of 2020, and Release 17, which has not yet been approved when it was supposed to give full meaning to its use, apart from the pandemic, have contributed to the limited progress.


The report cites some promising experiences, such as tests by Telefónica in the port of Barcelona, ​​which communicates cranes, vehicles and people, in the case of Spain. In Germany, the port of Hamburg, Antwerp and Zeebrugge in Belgium or Tallinn in Estonia are cited, as well as tests of an autonomous train in Germany or an autonomous ferry in Norway.


The situation of private networks, acknowledges the report, is also in its initial stages of development, although it is trusted that it will contribute significantly to the increase in productivity of the Member States of the European Union and its adoption by the companies will serve for the sustained development of the entire 5G ecosystem. A table summarizes the experiences that are being carried out.


From Spain, an experience is cited with the chemical company Basf with MásMóvil in November 2020 and in the stadium of the Barcelona football club with Telefónica in February 2019. Obviously, there are many more experiences with private and vertical networks and more recent in Spain, although this does not mean that the situation is very promising at the moment. Germany is where the most tests are being done with private 5G networks, followed by Finland and France, according to a graph based on data from the European Commission.


As indicated at the beginning of the 5G Observatory report, there has been some progress compared to previous reports regarding the allocation of frequencies in the priority bands for 5G. However, it is recognized that the objectives set in the 5G Action Plan on the concession of the three priority bands have not been met in all Member States, despite the fact that it was launched on September 14, 2016. On this particular issue , only five Member States had assigned the frequencies in the three bands by the end of June. And last month there were seven Member States that had reported progress.