Europe’s 6G Drive: Nordic Giants Set to Lead in Global Tech Race

Written by | Wednesday, April 28th, 2021

The search for the 6th generation of wireless technology – known as 6G – is already attracting millions in public and private investment, although the deployment of its precursor, 5G, is still in its early stages. The United States and Japan have recently pledged to “revitalise” their alliance through a partnership on competitiveness and innovation, including by putting almost €4 billion for the “research, development, testing, and deployment of secure networks and advanced ICT including 5G and next-generation mobile networks“ – meaning 6G. This announcement came as a month earlier, China, already a leader in 5G technology, had said that the research and development of 6G will be a top priority in its next five-year plan (2021-25). South Korea is not lagging behind either, with its government having unveiled, as early as in August 2020, an initial package of around €142 million to fully embrace the 6G revolution.
Although the technology is years away from materializing, the decisive action taken in the United States and Asia has spurred the European Union into action. The bloc has also been making its own moves to get hold of 6G technology while continuing to deploy 5G networks. According to the EU’s 5G Action Plan, all populated areas in the bloc should have 5G by 2030. But since 6G could be already available for customers by then, the European Commission has adopted a legislative proposal for the period 2021-2027 setting up €900 million to “coordinate research activities on 6G technology under Horizon Europe as well as 5G deployment initiatives”. The Commission hopes to leverage a similar amount from the private sector, reaching €1.8 billion in total investment. Member states are too looking ahead: Germany has put on the table €700 million for 6G R&D for the next five years.
Having lost the social media and smartphone races against the US, China and South Korea, the EU has, however, been able to thrive in the 5G competition. Sweden’s Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia, together with China’s Huawei, comfortably dominate the current market. The total or partial ban that many countries in Europe, as well as in the US and Australia, have imposed on Huawei – following a concentrated push from President Trump’s administration – has helped the two Nordic giants to hold their ground and keep growing. Brussels is confident that a similar position of prominence could be replicated in the 6G marathon. “[It’s] important that Europe maintains its technology capacities. We know that we have two of the major three suppliers of equipment. So this is a good starting point,” says Peter Stuckmann, head of the future connectivity systems unit of the European Commission.

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