Why Italy is struggling to launch its planned 5G network

Why Italy is struggling to launch its planned 5G network
Protests against 5G, like this one in the northern city of Turin in Janaury, are just one of the worries operators are facing as they introduce the technology in Italy. Photo: AFP
Italy’s 5G project was supposed to be ahead of its time, but where are the networks? Operators say the project has fallen victim to high costs, conspiracy theories, and Italy’s famously complex bureaucracy.

The project to introduce 5G mobile services was launched to great fanfare in October 2018. Italy has been keen to take advantage of the next-generation wireless network technology, which will be faster and capable of handling more connected devices than the existing 4G.

Italy held auctions at the end of 2018 – two years before neighbour France – raising over 6.55 billion euros ($7.3 billion), far above the minimum 2.17 billion euros Paris is hoping to bring in this autumn.
 
“The culture of mobile telecommunications in Italy has always been ahead of its time. The peninsula was the first country in the world to launch 3G,” Andrea Rangone, a professor at the Polytechnic business school in Milan, told AFP
 
But the high prices paid for frequencies, coupled with Italy's slow bureaucracy, are now proving a headache for operators.
 
 
The auctions have led to “much higher costs for companies than in other countries”, and “a sharp drop in profitability,” said Enrico Barsotti at mobile operator WindTre.
 
“Investing in Italy is very difficult, there is no certainty about time frames because of bureaucracy,” he said.
 
Getting the necessary permits “depends on rules that vary from one region to another, or even from one municipality to another,” Barsotti said.
 
Frustrated operators also fear damage from another quarter: conspiracy theorists spreading false reports that 5G is harmful to users
 
Companies have urged the government to tackle reports of the supposed dangers of 5G, with Fastweb pointing out “the frequencies used are exactly the same as those used over the past 20 years for other mobile technologies”.
 
There have also been protests held against the new technology in Italian cities.
 
These issues have not stopped operators from commercially launching 5G with dedicated subscriptions.
 
Telecom Italia (TIM) is already offering 5G in nine cities, including Rome, Turin, Florence and Naples, and will do so “soon” in other cities like Milan.ù
 
The aim is “to cover the entire population by 2025/2026,” it said.
 
Digital Transformation expert Gianni Ferranti said “there could be a resumption of 5G development in 2021, if the government maintains tax incentives for companies investing in digitisation and automation, and if the average prices of mobile phones capable of connecting in 5G fall”.
 
5G is now at least partially available in 378 cities in a total of 34 countries, 15 of them in Europe, includng Austria, Germany, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

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