The COVID-19 pandemic has made, and continues to make for difficult times in Europe, and every corner of the globe. During the months of lockdown, digital infrastructures became the backbone of our daily lives more than ever before, enabling us not only to keep in touch with loved ones, but also to continue to work when teleworking was an option, and to have access to much needed entertainment. The resilience of our digital infrastructures became a key issue during the lockdown. Would they hold up to the added strain? To everyone’s great relief, they did.
These digital infrastructures have experienced unprecedented upheavals over the past thirty years. Our fellow citizens have embraced the steady stream of new services, often to the surprise of the sector’s players. In the early 1990s, many believed that those little text messages people were sending each other over their phones were just a fad. Twenty years later, these (probably same) sceptics were saying that nobody would ever watch a video on their too tiny smartphone screens. Present during virtually every moment of our daily lives, these infrastructures have become almost as vital to people in France as electricity and running water.
Starting with Finland in 2018, the vast majority of European countries have deployed new generation mobile telephony services, aka 5G. From Finland to Spain and from Ireland to Romania, by way of Germany, Belgium and Italy, thus far more than 30 operators have launched their new generation network, and begun providing 5G services to their customers1.
In France, the telecommunication sector’s regulatory authority will be holding auctions in September 2020, to award the radio frequencies that will enable the launch of 5G in final quarter of the year.
The launch of new mobile services is setting off debates across society. Challenges like the digital divide, impact on health and carbon footprint are all being raised, and for good reason.
IDATE DigiWorld, an independent institute with 40 years’ experience in observing and analysing our society’s digital evolution, is keen to contribute to these debates. While a great many of the questions that are being raised appear unanswerable, we believe that some, on the contrary, can be answered in a way that everyone can understand.
Setting aside controversy or attempts at manipulation, the aim of this report is to draw a line between questions that we are not yet able to answer, and what we do already know. In this last category, we want to deliver clear and concise responses to the challenges that have been raised. The purpose is to provide the curious with raw material to forge their own informed opinion.