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New 5G spectrum rules urgently needed for European innovators

Europe risks falling behind if it does not move to establish 5G spectrum standards soon

As global competition intensifies in the race to establish new standards to support the delivery of next-generation 5G services, new spectrum rules are urgently needed to prevent European innovators from falling behind.

There is mounting speculation that telecoms companies in China, Japan and South Korea could win the race to develop new technological standards to support the delivery of 5G services, leaving European businesses disadvantaged in the future.

Planned for roll-out in the EU by 2020, 5G services are expected to make mobile downloads virtually instant and facilitate high-speed data transfer between internet-enabled devices for the first time, paving the way for machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and the internet of things (IoT).

Europe’s digital commissioner, Gunther Oettinger, has announced that he plans to liberalise EU spectrum rules as part of a package of measures to be announced later this year that are designed to speed up the implementation of 5G services in Europe. The UK regulator, Ofcom, is also consulting on how to streamline the roll-out of 5G services.

Backed by significant investment, telecoms companies in South Korea are expecting to have a 5G service ready in time for the 2018 Winter Olympics and one of the country’s largest telecoms businesses, SK Telecom, recently showcased a world-first 5G computer in Barcelona.

European telecoms businesses and innovators operating in related sectors are already investing heavily in the development of technologies to support the delivery of 5G services, but if spectrum rules remain unchanged, there is a real risk that they might not be able to implement them quickly enough to make them essential to any new standards.

This could mean that European innovators lose out commercially because they would miss out on the opportunity to license their inventions.

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Relaxing the rules controlling the spectrum could help enormously, but of course it must be achieved in a way that would not compromise security.

Winning the race to establish technological standards to support the delivery of 5G services could bring benefits for many UK and European businesses, not just those in the telecoms sector.

Much innovation is taking place in the UK at the moment around the ‘weightless’ standard – one of the dominant standards that innovators can use when developing devices with M2M capabilities. Such technologies will be required to enable the mainstream use of driverless cars and to support the evolution of smart cities.

Turning these hi-tech visions of the world into a mainstream reality will require close collaboration and innovators understand the value of working together. However, in the fast-paced area of 5G-enabled devices, where essential standards are yet to be established, it is especially important that every invention is patent protected at an early stage.

Denis Keseris is partner and patent attorney at Withers & Rogers, specialising in consumer electronics and telecommunications. ........................................................................

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