5G in Europe: between deployment delays and security risks

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In a report, the European Court of Auditors points to the deployment of 5G networks in the EU through delays and security risks which are not yet sufficiently addressed by the various Member States.

The European Court of Auditors

The deployment of 5G networks in Europe is a major step forward for users but also for operators. In an action plan adopted in 2016, the European Commission set objectives to guarantee the widest possible coverage in urban areas in 2025 before extending it to all inhabited areas by 2030. Ambitious objectives which could well be upset despite a pharaonic deployment cost of 400 billion euros, 4 billion of which are directly financed by the European Union.

“Our audit shows that there are delays in the deployment of 5G networks by Member States. By the end of 2020, 23 member states had launched commercial 5G-based services and had reached the interim target of offering 5G access in at least one major city,” the European Court of Auditors warned in a latest report. Among the reproaches expressed, that of certain countries for not making reference in their national strategy of deployment to the objectives of the EU. Or even simply not having yet transposed the European electronic communications code into their national law.

5G deployment in Europe

Commonalities and differences between 5G equipment manufacturers and between their countries of origin. (Credit: European Court of Auditors)

No constraints for 5G security

But the questions about the deployment of 5G networks in Europe are not only about delays. Suspended security issues are also highlighted: “The EU 5G Network Security Toolkit sets out a number of strategic, technical and support measures to counter threats to the security of these networks. and designates the actors concerned by each of these measures […]. However, none of the proposed measures being legally binding, the Commission has no power to enforce them. Therefore, there remains a risk that the toolkit will not, in itself, ensure that Member States address network security aspects in a concerted way”.

To limit the problems, the European Court of Auditors has issued several pieces of advice to the Commission: “we recommend promoting the homogeneous and rapid deployment of 5G networks within the EU, promoting a concerted approach to the security of 5G networks between Member States and to monitor Member States’ approaches to 5G network security and to assess the impact of divergences on the effective functioning of the single market”. It remains to be seen whether it will be heard.

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