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Research uncovers state of 5G development in Northern Europe

Published : 24 Oct 2019, 11:48

Updated : 24 Oct 2019, 13:07

  By Krista Krumina

The Nordic and Baltic region has demonstrated high political ambition when it comes to implementing 5G technology. As it's stated in the recent Letter of Intent, signed by the Prime Ministers of the Nordic countries, the region is aiming to become ''the first and most integrated 5G region in the world''.

5G technology is estimated to provide huge business opportunities, and testbeds – controlled environments for conducting experiments and developing new 5G solutions – serve an important role in harnessing these opportunities. According to a recent report, carried out by the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) in cooperation with the Nordic Council of Ministers, Nordic and Baltic countries have been especially active in setting up testbeds and testing the new technology.

The report outlines a number of 5G testbeds and projects developed in the region, as well as gives an overall insight into the Nordic-Baltic 5G ecosystem, it's opportunities, and risks. Here are the key findings from the report:

Leaders in 5G testing: Sweden & Finland

According to the report, Sweden and Finland are ahead of the game when compared to other countries from the Nordic and Baltic regions. The report shows that 20 out of the total 43 testbeds in the region are located in these two countries, while Finland also features more 5G projects than any other country – 41.

This discovery doesn't really come as a surprise because both Sweden and Finland have strong traditions within the telecom industry. Finland, after all, is known as the home of Nokia, which is also the major 5G equipment vendor in the country.

Sweden, on the other hand, is where telecommunication operators tele2 and Telia come from, which, obviously, are the main locomotives for 5G implementation. Another driving force behind 5G test initiatives is the country's strong vehicle industry, including companies like Volvo, Scania, and AstaZero. Most of the activities are aimed at finding how 5G can contribute to the efficiency of manufacturing – which equals cost-savings.

Most explored industries: transport & manufacturing

Numbers indicate that two of the most explored industries in relation to 5G are transportation and manufacturing. As pointed out in the report, ''this is also where the first business cases based on the new 5G functionalities can be found – in using 5G for the continuous digitalization of industrial production and digitalization of transport issues.''

From the very early days of 5G, the technology has been actively discussed in relation to the transportation industry. The next-generation wireless network is expected to provide connectivity throughout cities (and countries), which would make transportation – of both goods and people – safer. The estimated benefits are enormous, so obviously, the application of 5G in this industry is much tested not only in Northern Europe but also across the globe.

The manufacturing industry is estimated to see equivalently significant benefits from 5G technology. In fact, analysts foresee a $1,2 trillion market for 5G enabled digitalization products and services, whereof manufacturing industries will account for 19% or $228 billion.

5G pioneer in the Baltics: Latvia

Out of the three Baltic states, Latvia appears to be the most active 5G technology ambassador. While Estonia has two testbeds and Lithuania – zero, Latvia has set up several ongoing 5G trials and projects, seven of which are characterized as testbeds.

The majority of the Latvia-based 5G testbeds have been launched by or in collaboration with the country's leading mobile telecom operator Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT). That shows the company's dedication to the commercial development and implementation of the technology, especially taking into consideration that three out of seven testbeds are devoted to 5G research and development (R&D).

''Latvia stands out as the most proactive Baltic country,'' the report concludes, especially highlighting the country's initiative to gather 5G experts, innovators, and policy-makers in the annual 5G Techritory forum.

Rising trend: drone control with 5G

Drones are an emerging global trend, which, however, comes with great safety and security challenges. Drone traffic management is problematic because there is no global standard in controlling unmanned aerial traffic. As a result, the use of this technology is still greatly limited.

5G connectivity is predicted to enable a worldwide use of drones, and, unsurprisingly, Latvia is especially active when it comes to testing 5G solutions for drone control. That goes hand in hand with the country's overall interest in drone technologies – Latvia is home for several successful drone startups, like Areones, Airboard, and others. That could explain why half of the country's projects in the transport vertical are dedicated to drone control.

One of the recent tests was LMT's high-altitude internet experiment, which demonstrated that it's technologically possible to create a mobile network in the sky. In the future, this would make it possible to use drones for crucial medical aid deliveries, forest fire detection, search and rescue processes, and more.

Problem: lack of transnational collaboration

One of the main weaknesses that's been repeatedly emphasized is the lack of cross-border activities. That's seemingly due to a lack of funding for such projects, which also partially stems from an unclarity as to who's going to pay for all of this.

The Baltic initiative to develop the Via Baltica digital corridor, as well as the 5G Techritory forum in Riga, are rare exceptions of collaborative ambition. However, the stakeholders in other countries from the region still ''regard 5G test and development as a local or national interest'' – concluded in the report.

Close cross-border collaboration is, nevertheless, necessary for successful development and monetization of the technology. For example, one of the industries that could greatly benefit from the Nordic-Baltic cooperation is agriculture. As the authors predict, ''agriculture, including aquaculture and forestry, is a field where the Nordic-Baltic strengths could be combined into a potential 5G powerhouse''.

What is clear – the implementation of 5G infrastructure is costly, which is one of the main reasons why collaboration between multiple economies is crucial. To create advanced 5G infrastructure and to compete with other regions, Nordic-Baltic companies, organizations, and policy-makers must put their heads and finances together.

Putting all together

The mapping of 5G testbeds provides an insight into the Nordic-Baltic 5G ecosystem, its main focus points, and trends in regard to testing the next-generation mobile technology.

Most of the key findings go hand in hand with the general regional tendencies and global 5G trends. This, for example, applies to the fact that transportation and manufacturing industries are most actively explored. Or that Finland and Sweden are leading the pack in testing 5G – these countries have always been technologically advanced and with strong telecommunication industry traditions.

The underdog status is held by Latvia. When compared to the other Baltic states, Latvia manages to keep up with the Nordic countries in terms of the number of testbeds and projects. So far, it's also the only country that actively promotes cross-border collaboration, which is one of the major weaknesses of the region.

A great problem is the low level of investments in the development of the 5G infrastructure. Companies and organizations from the region seem to have the interest and ambitions, but lack financial support and 5G-promoting policies from the government.

Last year at 5G Techritory, no one could really answer the question who should be paying for the development of the infrastructure, and should governments fund this from their budgets? At the same time, policy-makers from the region must understand the opportunities the 5G technology poses to the local and regional economy – it will serve as a tool for attracting innovation and businesses that are building next-generation products and services. That's just one of the reasons why governments should actively seek ways to finance the infrastructure.