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Officials decry delays in deployment of networks with security issues remaining unresolved.

In a special report published this week, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) calls for new impetus to boost the roll-out of 5G, the new global wireless standard for mobile networks, in the EU. Member States have experienced considerable delays in implementing their 5G networks, which is jeopardising the achievement of the EU’s objectives in terms of access and coverage. States also need to address security issues in 5G deployment in a consistent and concerted manner, the auditors say.

5G services are essential for a wide range of applications that benefit many sectors of the EU economy and citizens’ daily lives.5G could add up to €1 trillion to EU GDP between 2021 and 2025, the Auditors say. Moreover, they claim 5G has the potential to create or transform up to 20 million jobs.

Fears of security threats from “hostile state actors”

“While 5G provides many opportunities for growth, it comes with certain risks,” they warn. “The limited number of vendors able to build and operate 5G networks increases dependency and the risks associated with interference by “hostile state actors”.

In its 2016 Action Plan, the European Commission set a deadline of 2025 for 5G to be available across all urban areas and all major transport routes. In March last year, it set a further target of achieving EU-wide 5G coverage by 2030. However, the auditors observe that “only half of the Member States have included those objectives in their national 5G strategies.”

The Commission has has never clearly defined the expected quality of 5G services. This could lead to inequalities in access to and the quality of 5G services across the EU, further widening the “digital divide”, the auditors underline.

“Across the EU, up to €400 billion will be spent by 2025 on developing 5G networks to support the future economic growth and competitiveness,” said Annemie Turtelboom, the member of the European Court of Auditors. “But with many Member States lagging behind, the EU is still far from reaping the benefits 5G offers.”

Turtelboom adds that “member States’ approaches towards 5G security, and in particular the need for concerted action, remains an issue of strategic importance for the EU’s technological sovereignty and the single market.”