When planning 5G rollouts, Eastern European countries need to worry about more than technology

While the early rollout of 5G infrastructure in Western Europe is taking shape, in Eastern Europe most countries are at very different stages when it comes to their individual 5G deployments. Due to different technical, legal or even political contexts, these countries make difficult choices about what to do next.

The Balkan region, where most countries are not members of the EU, is often seen as an arena where international powers try to create their own spheres of influence. The introduction of 5G technology in the Balkans is just one of the areas in which the great powers are competing, and in this case the main players are the United States and China.

In recent years, much of the region has become part of a US-led 5G security initiative called “Clean Network”. North Macedonia, Bulgaria and Kosovo were the last countries to join the pact in October 2020, which at 53 member countries and includes 180 telecommunications companies. Like the State Department describe, his initiative was created to address “long-term threats to data privacy, security, and human rights posed to the free world by authoritarian malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party.”

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The statement specifically mentions Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE as the “rogue IT vendors”, which the initiative seeks to counter.

Huawei already has a strong presence in the region, thanks to China’s close cooperation with Serbia, which many say is the most influential country in the Balkan region. Although the country is not officially part of the “Clean Network”, the Serbian authorities last year sign an economic cooperation agreement with Washington, in which they undertake to prohibit the use of 5G equipment from “untrusted suppliers”. However, in this particular deal, there was no direct mention of China or suppliers like Huawei.

According to Vuk Vuksanovic, a researcher in international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), the example of Serbia shows that the region is already in a difficult situation when it comes to taking sides in the American conflict. -Chinese.

“No specific mention of Huawei or China, but everyone knows that’s the fish the US wants to fry. Nations in the region will find it increasingly difficult to balance China and the U.S. As the Sino-U.S. rivalry intensifies, so does the U.S. backlash against China, including against Huawei’s 5G ambitions in the region,” Vuksanovic told ZDNet.

Originally slated to begin in 2021, Serbia has also opted to postpone its long-awaited 5G rollout, with Serbian authorities bluntly stating that “Serbs currently do not need a 5G network”, although a lack budget is also likely.

However, other countries in the region, such as EU members Slovenia and Croatia, are already beginning to see the benefits of the introduction of 5G networks. Last summer, Telekom Slovenia, the country’s leading ICT service provider, launched the first 5G mobile network. Extending the transport capabilities of existing mobile networks and ensuring continuous technological development of IoT were some of the main reasons for the introduction of 5G in Slovenia.

“Since every future begins with the first step, we have chosen to begin by completing an evolutionary upgrade of existing mobile technology, which is based on established safe and secure standards that we have mastered and upgraded for a few decades. “, Matjaz Bericic, Telekom Slovenian CTO, tells ZDNet.

“In the coming years, we anticipate at least two major phases of 5G development. Business and residential users have a safe and secure future in our network.”

The company also plans to launch its public 5G mobile network in the form of “campus” networks, where a single physical infrastructure can host multiple virtual dedicated networks for various business sectors, such as energy supply, transport, logistics, manufacturing, smart cities, healthcare, protection and rescue, Bericic explained.

In neighboring Croatia, Austrian mobile operator A1 is also working on introducing 5G networks in more than 70 cities. Both operators use Ericsson technology.

“A1 experts are working intensively on the latest radio access technologies. A 5G network based on dynamic spectrum sharing technology will soon be ready in more than 70 cities. of existing frequencies and thus accelerates the availability of 5G for the end user,” A1 Croatia told ZDNet in a statement.

While the potential for 5G usage could be vast, what the region would benefit most from is the reliable connectivity, infrastructure and services that this technology brings.

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While countries like Serbia are still hesitant about which 5G providers to trust, the opportunities to improve their infrastructure and revive their economies could prove tempting for others, such as North Macedonia or Albania. who are early in the process of introducing 5G.

“A reliable connectivity infrastructure becomes an indispensable commodity, like electricity or water.” Petar Popovski, professor of wireless connectivity at Aalborg University in Denmark, told ZDNet.

“In this sense, an early strategy on 5G rollout and spectrum licensing could be a great opportunity for the region, as it can be seen as part of the advanced infrastructure that can attract investment from , for example, industrial production companies or multimedia production companies.