5G: A Backbone for Europe’s Economic Recovery

One of the biggest strengths of the GSMA – our ability to convene 110,000 people from 90 countries for the annual MWC Barcelona – suddenly became a challenge in the face of a fast-moving new virus, COVID-19. We were forced to cancel the trade show on 12 February, when many still said there was no reason to fear.

Leadership in crisis takes guts.

In the weeks that followed, we have cancelled other global events, examined priorities and realigned resources to help meet unprecedented challenges confronting the mobile communications industry and political leaders.

One of our first actions was to coordinate the sharing of aggregated and anonymised mobile data between Europe’s largest telecom operators and the European Commission to help track COVID-19 and determine where medical equipment is needed.

In April, we published our new Privacy Principles for COVID-19 to promote best practice for handling mobile data to fight the spread of the virus. Recognising the urgency with which governments must act, the guidelines provide a tool to address the privacy issues that must be considered to ensure public trust.

Our strength – more than 200 mobile network operators in Europe and 750 globally – remains crucial in an economic and political environment responding to demands and concerns in an evolving situation. The GSMA is more committed than ever to governance of a digital world based on common values that underpin the single market.

As a non-profit association, the GSMA works across industries to align best practices around AI and technology standards for electronic SIM cards, for example. We coordinate industry working groups to combat cyber threats, and to promote the adoption of international safety guidelines for electromagnetic emissions.

That work has an urgent sense of purpose in this crisis: Cybercrime has spiked and critical network infrastructure has come under attack. Arsonists have set fire to more than 80 telecoms antennas in eight European countries and scores of frontline engineers have been harassed by people who believed conspiracy theories and false claims linking 5G technology to COVID-19.

In our fight against the surge in misinformation and fake news on social media, we reached out to the World Health Organization, which added 5G to its Myths Buster webpage about false causes and cures. We continue to work across institutions and with news media to dispel public fears contrary to science and decades of research.

Social distancing is the new normal but, we continue to work closely in the regions and encourage our communities to come together in this crisis. The mobile industry needs a united voice because decisions made in the coming months around rules for digital services, AI and competition, for example, will have profound consequences for businesses and citizens throughout Europe.

Living and working in lockdown conditions underscores the critical importance of our connectivity. Video conference calls on 5G networks, which have data speeds up to 10-times faster than current 4G networks, would eliminate the gaps and “Oh, sorry, you go first” overlaps in conversations.

We are convinced that 5G will be a backbone for Europe’s economic recovery and drive the shift to greener vertical industries. Edge computing, data, artificial intelligence will be the building blocks of the new economy.

Before this health crisis, the digital economy was expected to add 1.1 percentage points to the European Union’s annual economic growth and to boost GDP by over 14% by 2030, according to the European Commission’s estimates. That would have meant €2 trillion of GDP by 2030, roughly equal to Italy’s gross domestic production last year.

We know governments are under enormous financial strain and will need to prioritize funding for their healthcare systems, small businesses and unemployed workers. We will need to find innovative solutions for the €500 million in private and public investments needed to build a 5G infrastructure that can turbo-charge the region’s growth.

Leading conversations about digital change is central to the GSMA. In a crisis, those conversations are often about innovation and adaptation. New models for success are born. And there will be no better place to share those success stories than in Barcelona at MWC 2021.

Published in Our World Magazine on 6 May, 2020