The European Commission has adopted a legislative proposal for the upcoming European partnership on Smart Networks and Services (SNS) towards 6G. I am very glad to announce the delivery of an important milestone achieved with my team, colleagues in the Commission, key stakeholders and Member States towards European technology capacities in the global race to 6G.

The proposal for the Joint Undertaking on Smart Networks and Services (SNS) towards 6G, adopted last week by the Commission, is part of the Single Basic Act establishing the set of nine Joint Undertakings under Horizon Europe. There is an earmarked €900 million of Commission funding, to be matched through co-funding by industry. The proposal will now be discussed among Member States in the Council with a planned launch later this year.

Connectivity as enabler for digital and green recovery

The COVID-19 crisis has shown the importance of resilient and high-speed communications infrastructure. Society’s trust and acceptance in connectivity infrastructure has grown as we discovered its benefits. Meanwhile, business has understood the critical importance of high-speed networks and technologies in maintaining operations and processes. We now see the potential 5G networks have to provide the basis for a digital and green recovery in the short to mid-term, and the need to build technology capacities for the following generation – 6G – in the long term.

From 5G to 6G

5G technology and standards will evolve over the next few years as deployment advances. Operators in 23 EU Member States have launched commercial 5G networks in major cities. 5G technology is expected to evolve towards new ‘stand-alone’ 5G core networks enabling industrial applications such as Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) and industry 4.0.

These applications are the first step towards digitising and greening our entire economy. Advanced 5G infrastructures are also an important starting point for 6G technologies in Europe. The growth potential in economic activity enabled by 5G and 6G networks and services is estimated to be reach around €3 trillion by 2030 (McKinsey Global Institute, 2/2020).

What is 6G?

6G systems will move us from Gigabit to Terabit capacities and sub-millisecond response times. This will enable new applications such as real-time automation or extended reality sensing (“Internet of Senses”), collecting data for a digital twin of the physical world.

Research and Innovation (R&I) initiatives on 6G technologies are now starting around the world, with the first products and infrastructures expected for the end of this decade.

In Europe, a first set of 6G projects worth €60 million was launched under the 5G-PPP, with the Hexa-X flagship developing a first 6G system concept complemented by eight projects investigating specific technologies for 6G. These technologies will form the basis for a human-centric Next-Generation Internet (NGI) and address Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

An R&I Strategy for 6G

Success in 6G will depend on the extent to which Europe succeeds in building a solid 5G infrastructure. Therefore, building 5G lead markets is of key importance. One area of high potential for such a lead market is 5G-based Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM). The CEF digital programme could support the roll-out of 5G Corridors for CAM unlocking this ecosystem in Europe. The Recovery and Resilience Facility set up to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic provides an enormous opportunity to further boost such investments.

Achieving technological independence requires a broader value chain approach, leveraging European strongholds in connectivity to create opportunities in areas where Europe is today dependent on supply from the US and Asia. Such an approach would allow Europe to maximise growth opportunities, with annual growth rates predicted at 40%.

In order to exploit such opportunities, Europe must become a standard-setter in 6G and related fields. This can be done in three steps. Firstly, European actors can help to ensure that emerging network technology standards follow European values. Secondly, they need to define key technology standards. Finally, European players need to shape the next-generation network architecture in order for European suppliers to remain competitive, and to ensure the delivery of advanced service features.

Spectrum resources are another key factor that will determine Europe’s success in 6G. European industry and Member States need to identify the opportunities related to spectrum for 6G, ensuring they are available in Europe and harmonised at global level.

Such outcomes in global standardisation and spectrum harmonisation can only be achieved by proactive and effective international cooperation at government and industry level. This includes regular dialogues with leading regions and focused joint initiatives.

European Partnership on Smart Networks and Services towards 6G

The issues at stake call for a strategic R&I roadmap for Europe and a Joint Undertaking co-led by industry and the Commission with close involvement of Member States.

Against this background, we now put forward this proposal on a European partnership on Smart Networks and Services (SNS) to enable European players to build the R&I capacities for 6G systems and develop lead markets for 5G infrastructure as a basis for the digital and green transformation. It will include a formal governance structure that will jointly define a consolidated European approach towards strategic R&I and deployment agendas.

We are now looking forward to discussing the proposal with Member States in the Council and reaching an agreement on the Council Regulation establishing the Joint Undertaking by autumn. We can then expect the first calls for proposals a few months later.

Let me call on Member States and the private sector to help us establish this institutionalised partnership and to support the coordination with national investments and efforts in view of maximising the impact at European and global level.

I am looking forward to this joint effort!

Source and photo credits: European Commission