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Europe inks deal with China to develop 5G mobile networks

The goal is to roll out high-speed 5G networks capable of 20 gigabytes per second by 2020. But is that realistic?

Europe is looking toward a new deal with China to quicken the development of 5G networks. CNET

Europe has made yet another deal designed to further the move toward 5G.

The European Commission and China reached an agreement Monday to cooperate on the development of 5G, or fifth-generation, wireless networks. Under the terms of the agreement, both parties promise to share research and work toward the standardization of 5G connectivity. Both also said they would allow each other access to research funding and membership in Chinese and European Union 5G associations. The EU's 5G PPP Association and China's IMT-2020 (5G) Promotion Association are devoted toward the research and development of 5G technology.

Promising transfer rates as high as 20 gigabytes of data per second, 5G wireless would blaze past the current 4G standard, which offers speeds up to 1 gigabit per second. 5G is expected to be commercially available around 2020. However, that five-year timeframe may prove a challenge with some countries and carriers across the globe still struggling to deploy 4G networks. The cooperation between Europe and other countries should help move things forward.

5G is considered the linchpin for the Internet of Things, the phrase given to the idea of connecting everything to the Internet, meaning your cars, homes, appliances, health monitors, wearable devices and more. By 2020, the amount of mobile Internet traffic will be 30 times greater than it was in 2010, the European Commission noted. Connecting all of those devices will require high-speed mobile networks that can handle the huge flow of data.

"5G won't just be faster, it will also be the backbone of our digital future and the foundation of a trillion euro EU market in the Internet of Things, i.e. new functionalities and applications ranging from connected cars to smart homes," the EC said.

The agreement outlines the following specific goals:

  • Reach a global understanding, by the end of 2015, on the concept, basic functionalities, key technologies and time plan for 5G.
  • Explore possibilities in cooperating and implementing joint research actions in the area of 5G and to facilitate bilateral participation of enterprises in 5G research projects in China and the EU.
  • Jointly promote global standardization for 5G, in support of ongoing standardization work in relevant organizations such as the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
  • Cooperate in facilitating the identification of the most promising radio frequency bands to meet the new spectrum requirements for 5G.
  • Explore jointly the possibilities for cooperative research on the services and applications for 5G, especially in the area of the Internet of Things (IoT).

The latest agreement builds on similar ones the European Commission made with South Korea in June of 2014 and with Japan in May of 2015. Through its Horizon 2020 Program, the European Commission also devoted 700 million euros ($7.81 million) toward research into 5G technology.

Asia is ahead of the Europe and the United States in 4G performance, according to data released last week from users of OpenSignal, an app that maps cellular coverage. South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong were the top three performers with the US and several European countries further down the list. Europe wants to ensure that it doesn't lag behind in 5G adoption by reaching deals with countries that are at the forefront of its development.

"5G will be the backbone of our digital economies and societies worldwide," Commissioner Günther Oettinger said in a statement. "This is why we strongly support and seek a global consensus and cooperation on 5G. With today's signature with China, the EU has now teamed up with the most important Asian partners in a global race to make 5G a reality by 2020. It's a crucial step in making 5G a success."