The number of 5G trials in Europe is growing in 2019 as the region's mobile operators gear up for a commercial rollout of the next-generation wireless network technology in at least one major city in each European Union member state by 2020, according to a report from the European Commission's 5G Observatory.
Despite concerns about slower 5G adoption in Europe compared to the U.S. and Asia, progress has accelerated in the EU since the tail-end of 2017, in part due to 5G investment targets set by the European Commission. The region's action plan, agreed to by EU member states in 2017, aims to have an EU-wide commercial rollout by 2020, as well as coverage of the main urban areas and transport routes by 2025.
EU member states closed 2018 with 138 trials of 5G networks in 35 cities. Spain, France, Germany and Italy led the region's activity, accounting for 40% of all 5G trials performed. Some of the cities already in 5G trials as of the end of 2018 were Ghent (Belguim), Tallinn (Estonia), Espoo (Finland), Berlin, Amsterdam, Milan, Barcelona, Stockholm and London.
For these trials, the 3.4-GHz to 3.8-GHz band was the most used frequency band, according to the European Commission's findings. This represents midband spectrum. While low-band spectrum was widely used for 4G wireless services because it can travel long distances and penetrate obstacles, that spectrum has become crowded. High-band spectrum is good for high data throughput, but it cannot travel far distances or penetrate various surfaces. Midband spectrum combines qualities of both, and it is seen across the globe as obvious anchor spectrum for the 5G networks to come.
Spectrum auctions are scheduled to take place in 2019 in Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Portugal; with more auctions to follow in 2020 in Spain, Malta, Lithuania, Slovakia, the U.K. and Poland.
Finnish operator Elisa Oyj claimed to have launched the world's first commercial 5G network in 2018. Further deployments are expected from operators including the U.K.'s Vodafone Group PLC, BT Group-owned EE, France's Orange SA, Germany's Deutsche Telekom AG in 2019 ahead of full commercial service in 2020.
5G mobility service promises to provide massive bandwidth and greater opportunities for connectivity, enabling the new era of the internet of things where billions of devices in homes and across cities will be connected at all times. When fully implemented, 5G is set to offer download speeds many times faster than today's 4G LTE networks.
A major hurdle for 5G deployment in Europe, however, is market fragmentation and relatively low 4G network penetration, making some operators hesitant to invest heavily in next-generation technology.