The Netherlands wants to be on the European forefront in digitalization, smart cities and mobility. This ambition is based on successes from the past: The Netherlands has an excellent digital infrastructure and is leading in connectivity. That is great to accommodate the explosive growth in mobile data use of consumers and enterprises, which is the era of 3G and 4G. The future, however, belongs to 5G. This new generation mobile technology is crucial for the introduction of autonomous driving, eHealth and the ´internet of things´. Applications that give answers to societal challenges like urbanization, mobility, healthcare and education. The EU regards 5G as a strategic opportunity that can be decisive for the societal and economic future of Europe and wants 5G to be available in 2020.

Europe is moving forward…

All signs are pointing in the same direction now and developments are rapid. The European Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) designated the 3.5GHz band for 5G. The Industry Group 3GPP agreed the first 5G-standards and the industry demonstrated during the MWC in Barcelona that network equipment and chipsets are ready for 5G-applications. In the meantime a European agreement about spectrum is within reach that puts a deadline on making spectrum for 5G available in the 3,5 GHz-band by 2020 and envisages more coordination between member states in auctions. Due to this development the new European Electronic communication act, that offers the broader framework for investments in the digital infrastructure of the future, could be a reality by this summer.

…The Netherlands stagnates

The Netherlands does not seem to be able to keep up with the pace of the countries around us and as a consequence threatens to lose control over its own digital agenda. Spectrum in the 3.5GHz band is in use with the security services in our country. Evaluation of the possibilities to use it for 5G will only be concluded by the end of 2018. That will in any case be to olate to still include this spectrum in the mobile auction in the 700 and 2100 band that is envisaged by the end of 2019. The plans for this auction are -by the way- being delayed by the merger between T-Mobile and Tele2 that still needs to be reviewed by the European Commission.
Before the summer Deputy Minister Keijzer wants to present an Action plan for Digital Connectivity that provides adequate pre-conditions for a solid digital infrastructure. The key pre-conditions that came out of the conversations she had with stakeholders last year are: spectrum, local policy, as well as investments, continuity and innovation in networks. The coming months will be used to further substantiate these pre-conditions.

Time for acceleration

Some query whether this effort is enough to preserve the digital leadership and demonstrates sufficient sense of urgency in light of the developments in the countries around us. It is in any event unlikely that any progress can be made on spectrum. Also in the area of local policy, crucial for the development of smart cities and for the licensing of the roll out of the 5G-network, there seems to be a missed opportunity. 5G and smart cities hardly play a role in the upcoming municipal elections, let alone that there is any perspective of a coordinated action plan by the newly elected local governments. There is a need for acceleration, true coordination and a stimulating role of the central government