Executive Director of HAKOM, Mr. Miran Gosta M.Sc. sees exceptional potential for the Croatian economy and increasing the quality of life of its citizens. Croatia is not lagging behind Europe, Gosta says for 5G, announcing that around HRK 1.25 billion will be invested in the company’s infrastructure alone.
What is the key difference between 5G technology and the existing system? What does it bring, and which development opportunities does it open up?
5G is a continuation of the technological advancement of mobile communications. Some of the existing limitations of the 4G LTE network are being improved with the new solutions to create a new environment that will bring advanced broadband access, mass machine-to-machine communication without human intervention, and ultra-reliable low-latency communication. The average user is likely to notice only higher speeds and faster network response at first, but the new network, due to its characteristics, will provide industrial and other applications with an efficient way to connect devices. It is expected that 5G will enable new applications and business models such as virtual reality, automated vehicles (AVs), advanced solutions in tourism, agriculture and other industries, and will be an integral part of the industry of the future – Industry 4.0.
Are you satisfied with the speed of implementation of new technologies in Croatia and Europe?
Europe wants to be at the forefront of technology and through its strategic framework encourages activities aimed at introducing 5G networks, whose services should be available in at least one major city in each Member State by 2020, while by 2025 5G should cover all urban areas and major terrestrial transport paths. The original plan was to start commercial operation of 5G networks in Croatia in 2020, but due to the COVID-19 crisis, plans have been moved to 2021. Fortunately, when it comes to mobile communications, Croatia is not lagging behind in Europe or the EU, especially considering the state of existing mobile communication networks.
By changing the allocation plans for frequency bands used by operators for previous generations of mobile technologies (800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz and 2600 MHz), the use of 5G technology in these bands is also enabled. HT and A1 took advantage of this opportunity and, using dynamic spectrum sharing, launched 5G in the 2100 MHz band. Basebands for 5G (700 MHz, 3.6 GHz and 26 GHz) should be allocated by the middle of this year, and 5G deployment in these bands is expected by the end of 2021.
Does regulation allow for quick investments or are they hampered by European procedures? Analysts already claim that the EU is lagging behind the rest of the developed world…
The EU requires the Member States to facilitate the construction of electronic communications networks and sees the Digital Single Market as one of the most important in the development of the EU’s digital society, but each Member State sets its own investment rules within the given European framework. It should be in Croatia’s interest to adopt such rules that will enable fast and efficient investments, without unnecessary bureaucracy. Countries that find a way to facilitate the construction of future electronic communications infrastructure and do not have a complicated construction procedure will yield better investment results in new networks.
So far, the 5G network is available in 70 Croatian cities. Can you estimate how long it will take us to make it available to all citizens?
In order to make it accessible to everyone, the 5G network will have to be built in less commercially viable i.e. rural areas. This will take time and depends on the investment potential of mobile market stakeholders. That is why in the planned public auction procedure for 5G basebands it is necessary to define deadlines for achieving the coverage of population and territory with 5G service, bearing in mind that rural areas are less attractive for investment than urban, i.e. more densely populated areas.
Great development is announced in all economic areas. Can you tell us which sectors in Croatia you recognize as those that could make the most of 5G technology?
The 5G network will enable the connection of a very large number of devices that will send data to the user, communicate with each other, and manage various processes. Smart cities will thus be able to adjust traffic signals according to the current traffic, distribute energy smarter and more efficiently, regulate waste disposal, and the like. Great potential for 5G applications in the agricultural sector has also been recognized, and we can expect the possibility of cultivating agricultural land with remote-control vehicles and crop monitoring using a large number of connected soil moisture, temperature, and quality sensors. Tourism is an indispensable branch of the Croatian economy that will have the opportunity to use technology through applications to promote the tourist offer. For example, tourists can be offered tour guides in a virtual augmented reality environment in the language of their choice.
Considering the current success and the global recognition of Croatian ICT companies and start-up communities, we can expect new achievements or solutions with the further development of technology.
Is there an estimate of how much investment, both directly in infrastructure and indirectly through the development of new services and products, we can expect with 5G deployment in Croatia?
It is estimated that operators will need to directly invest over HRK 1.25 billion in 5G deployment in the Republic of Croatia. The economic consequences of the availability of 5G technology will affect society as a whole, especially in terms of competitiveness, and there is also the possibility of new jobs and a significant contribution to GDP that is greater than the investments.
5G is a basis for the development of artificial intelligence and autonomous driving. Do you see driverless cars in Croatia in the next five years?
It must be pointed out that for autonomous vehicles it is necessary to ensure continuous 5G coverage of all roads with a certain quality of service, which will require large financial investments. According to the European Commission’s 5G Action Plan, 5G coverage in all urban areas and on all major terrestrial transport paths is one of the strategic goals by 2025, but autonomous driving is not dependent on technology only. Even today, we can technologically ensure safer driving than the one in which people are involved, but other issues related to autonomous driving technology have not yet been resolved and have yet to be regulated. Therefore, I hope that companies in Croatia, such as Rimac Automobili, will be able to test their technology because they will have a technological prerequisite in the form of a quality 5G network.
The pandemic has changed the way we live and work. More and more employees are working from home and at hours that suit them. Will we maintain this flexibility and how important will the location of workers be in the future with the new technologies?
We are witnessing that in times of crisis, electronic communications, especially mobile communications, allow us to work from home, attend classes, contact doctors or emergency services, communicate with family and friends, as well as coordinate all services that care about our safety and health. When we talk about the future, the location of the workers will depend on the type of work. Some jobs currently require continuous physical interaction, while others don’t, so they can be done remotely. With the development of technology, more and more jobs will be able to be performed remotely rather than in person, which means that each company will need to find a balance for itself, i.e. the optimal way to maintain or even increase efficiency while ensuring employee satisfaction.
On the other hand, there are opponents of the 5G network who are afraid of its negative health effects. Do you think there is justifiable cause for concern?
Looking at the impact on human health, 5G technology is not much different from other technologies currently used in close frequency bands for mobile networks. The new 5G frequency bands are 700 MHz and 3.6 GHz, which have so far been used for TV (700 MHz) and fixed wireless access (3.6 GHz), and at a later stage, 5G will use frequency bands already used by mobile communication networks (800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2600 MHz), as well as certain frequency bands that are not yet in commercial use (e.g. 26 GHz). The frequency limits for all these bands are already prescribed by the Croatian Ministry of Health’s Regulations on Protection from Electromagnetic Fields, which are stricter than the international ones, i.e. those allowed in most of the other Member States.
Anyone who wants to check relevant and true information about 5G technology can visit our website dedicated to this topic. The site covers simple explanations of 5G technology, its technical characteristics, and possible applications, and EU and national strategies, while the section on electromagnetic fields provides information on their health impact as well as the relevant regulations and HAKOM’s role in controlling electromagnetic fields.