As the United States grapples with the rollout of 5G that affects airlines, a European Union watchdog warned on Monday that the EU faces far greater security and economic threats unless member countries step up cooperation.
The alarm bells are included in a special report on the 27-nation bloc’s preparations for 5G, the fifth and next generation of wireless communications. 5G is designed to propel the world into a new digital age – with greater technological innovations but also vulnerabilities.
The European Court of Auditors study has a dual appeal, saying that Europe is lagging behind North America and Asia in deploying 5G networks and the EU needs to strengthen its strategy to combat national security risks.
“There are considerable delays in the roll-out of 5G networks by member states and more efforts are needed to address security issues in 5G deployment,” the Luxembourg-based ECA said in its 69-page assessment.
In the US, the start of 5G telecommunications services has led airlines to complain about possible interference with planes’ navigation instruments and disruptions to air travel.
The world is racing to install 5G infrastructure as a result of its increased data capacity and transmission speeds, which promise to transform everything from driving cars and livestock to broadcasting sports and manufacturing goods.
In this race with high economic stakes, EU countries are moving too slowly because of a failure to do things like allocate radio spectrum for 5G services, according to the ECA.
He said most member states of the bloc are expected to miss a common deployment target set for 2025, when they must ensure uninterrupted 5G coverage in urban areas and along key transport routes.
By mid-decade, only 35% of all mobile connections in Europe will be 5G-based, compared with 51% in North America and 53% in Australia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, according to an industry study. of telecommunications cited by the ECA. The projected number for 2025 for China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan is 48%.
As a result, most EU countries may also fail to achieve a more ambitious joint target for 2030: making 5G services available to all segments of the population.
“There is a high risk that the 2025 deadline – and therefore also the 2030 deadline for coverage of all populated areas – will be missed by most member states,” the ECA said.
The economic benefits lost to the EU could be large. 5G is expected to trigger exponential increases in data consumption in a block, where services account for around 70% of gross domestic product.
Citing a separate tech industry study, the ECA indicated that 5G could add up to €1 trillion (approximately INR 84,46,400 crore) to the European economy and create or transform 2 million jobs between 2021 and 2025.
But these economic rewards require much more spending on 5G, whose deployment across the EU by 2025 could cost nearly €400 billion (approximately INR 33,78,560 crore), according to the ECA. Those funds need to come mainly from mobile network operators, he said.
Differences between EU countries regarding 5G security partly explain the delays in infrastructure deployment, the ECA said. He highlighted disagreements among member states in their treatment of Chinese 5G providers such as Huawei, which face US claims to cater to the Communist Party of China’s geopolitical ambitions.
While the US government has taken a hard line against the involvement of Chinese providers in US 5G networks, the European Commission – the EU’s executive arm – has acted more carefully. An important limitation for the European Commission is that national security decisions remain in the hands of member countries.
While the EU has created a “toolbox” to align national approaches to classifying high-risk 5G providers, ambiguities exist and the entire initiative needs more regulatory teeth across the bloc, according to the ECA.
“There remains a risk that the toolbox itself cannot guarantee that member states address security aspects in a concerted manner,” the organization said.
The European Commission sought to offer assurances on 5G security after the ECA published its report, saying in a statement that it is “very attentive to strengthening the security of 5G networks” and that, based on the toolbox, “most member states managed to protect the most sensitive parts of high-risk supplier networks.”