Phase Three of 5G PPP seeks to boost vertical industry confidence

Only a year after the European Commission kicked off Phase Two of its €4.2bn 5G PPP (Public Private Partnership) program, it has announced the start of Phase Three. The shorter time between phases reflects the growing urgency to create platforms that will be commercially relevant and useful, as first 5G deployments come closer.

The latest Phase will focus on end-to-end validation of project KPIs and technologies, with a view to real world deployability in the next 1-2 years. That follows Phase One, which was focused on fundamental research for 5G networks; and Phase Two, which is taking those technology findings and applying them to digital transformation in vertical industries.

Initially, there are three projects in Phase Three, with their collective EU funding topping €50m (in total, the EC has provided €700m in funds to the 5G PPP, with the rest coming from private sources). Announced at the EuCNC conference in Slovenia last week, they were selected from 16 candidates and will start work next month.

The new projects are:

  • 5G EVE: This aims to lay the foundations for pervasive 5G roll-out in Europe by offering facilities to vertical industries in order to validate their network KPIs and their services.
  • 5G-VINNI: This project will provide a facility to run trials of advanced 5G services for vertical industries, in order to validate the performance of 5G technologies in those scenarios.
  • 5GENESIS: A successor to a previous project, this will work to validate the 5G network KPIs and verify the 5G technologies with an end-to-end approach, by integrating the results and technologies from many other EU projects, as well as some global and private corporate ones.

Based on these three, the 5G PPP aims to create a large-scale pan-European 5G test platform for a range of vertical industry use cases.

We expect this platform to be largely used to build the 5G case with vertical industries, and we very much encourage a multiplicity of industrial sectors to use it for validating 5G technology in the context of their specific use case and business model,” said Bernard Barani, from the EC’s DG CONNECT. “This will pave the way towards the more extensive 5G deployment actions that the Commission intends to support under the next Multiannual Financial Framework.”

Other Phase Three projects will be added later in the year. For instance, six proposals to address ‘5G for cooperative, connected and automated mobility (CCAM)’ will be announced in August; and the PPP is also calling for submissions for ‘Advanced 5G validation trials across multiple vertical industries’, with a deadline of November 14.

The focus on making 5G appropriate and deployable for vertical industries is welcome, and critical to the 5G objectives set by the EC and its national member governments. However, fine work on defining robust platforms and use cases will come to little, if it is not matched by enlightened spectrum policy from EU state regulators. So far, there has been too little alignment between government policies of using 5G to stimulate industrial competitiveness; and the regulators’ willingness to devise spectrum rules that will encourage that. From more shared and dynamically accessible spectrum, to licences earmarked for neutral hosts, industries or regions, there are many ways to encourage a broader ecosystem of deployers, to meet the very diverse needs of the sectors that would like to harness 5G and the Industrial IoT.

Some of the 19 5G PPP Phase One projects are now coming to an end and most will be completed by the close of the year. Eight of them are evolving into Phase Two projects, while Phase Two also has 13 new items, though these will still build on some of the results of Phase One activities. For instance, 5G-Transformer is a new project which aims to develop a new NFV/SDN-based 5G mobile transport and computing platform to support flexible network slicing, especially for low latency use cases, with federation of resources across multiple domains. This will build on 5G-Crosshaul, a recently completed Phase One initiative, as well as the 5GEx project on cross-domain orchestration and federation mechanisms.

If all its phases are taken together, 5G PPP is possibly the biggest 5G effort in the world and has ties to many others round the world. There are co-development agreements with Brazil, Korea, Japan and China, among others, and talks to include India and the US in the family. In particular, these projects and cooperations are important for defining the broader architectures around the core radio standards.

Even Phase One was not all about bluesky research, but included a large number of feasibility studies, including a detailed economic analysis by Real Wireless. Under the auspices of the 5G PPP, there will be a 5G showcase at the Euro 2020 football championships, which will take place across 13 countries.

And the European Commission set out a 5G Action Plan last autumn, which will leverage the 5G PPP research. Its agenda is to:

  • Align roadmaps and priorities for a coordinated 5G deployment across all EU Member states, targeting early network introduction by 2018, and moving towards commercial large scale introduction by the end of 2020 at the latest.
  • Make provisional spectrum bands available for 5G ahead of the 2019 World Radio Communication Conference (WRC-19), to be complemented by additional bands as quickly as possible, and work towards a recommended approach for the authorization of the specific 5G spectrum bands above 6GHz.
  • Promote early deployment in major urban areas and along major transport paths.
  • Promote pan-European multi-stakeholder trials as catalysts to turn technological innovation into full business solutions.
  • Facilitate the implementation of an industry-led venture fund in support of 5G-based innovation.
  • Unite leading actors in working towards the promotion of global standards.

According to the EC, Phase Two has several key focuses:

  • Leverage Phase One results
  • Shift emphasis more heavily towards software and cloud networks in the RAN and core
  • Extend inclusion of vertical industries which are expected to be heavy 5G users, especially automotive, healthcare, energy and media
  • Extend involvement to new stakeholders and domains (such as satellite and optical)
  • Represent small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which are expected to do over 20% of the work
  • Drive Europe towards 5G trials and demos

Perhaps the most important of the Phase Two goals to make 5G roll-out commercially worthwhile is the extended involvement of vertical industries. Although most 5G projects pay lip service to the need to support the requirements of many sectors, not just telecoms, in reality there has been frustration among organizations which represent industries such as transport and manufacturing, which feel their priorities are placed below those of MNOs.