EU countries, lawmakers strike deal to open up spectrum for 5G

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) – EU countries and lawmakers have struck a deal to free up radio frequencies for next-generation 5G services that will be valid for 20 years, as the bloc tries to catch up with the United States and China in rolling out internet-connected products.

Telecoms lobbying group ETNO, whose members include Orange, Telefonica and Telecom Italia, criticized the deal, however, saying it lacked ambition and that a timeframe of at least 25 years was needed.

The provisional agreement late on Thursday came after months of squabbling between EU governments seeking to guard a lucrative source of revenue and cash-strapped telecoms providers looking for new ways to boost profits.

Next-generation 5G services promise to deliver not just faster phones and video, but also connected cars and internet-connected industrial sensors over the next decade.

Under the agreement, 5G will be available throughout the bloc by 2020, with spectrum guaranteed for a minimum of 20 years.

The deal will facilitate the roll-out of connected vehicles, health-related services, smart cities and incentivize telecoms operators to speed up 5G networks, Pilar del Castillo, the European Parliament’s lead negotiator on the issue, said.

The issue is part of the European Commission’s reforms of telecoms rules known as the European Electronic Communications Code. The EU executive wants to get formal agreement on this topic during Bulgaria’s presidency of the bloc which ends in June.

Commission digital chief Andrius Ansip said the deal should spur all involved parties to agree on other reforms.

ETNO chairman Phillip Malloch said the reforms should have been bolder.

“5G will not be accelerated by a piecemeal reform, as Europe requires strong peer review and predictable licenses of at least 25 years. It appears negotiations still lack the ambitious direction everyone was looking for,” he said.

China is the world’s biggest 5G market by far.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Mark Potter