While the introduction of 5G tech in Eastern European countries is often seen through the lens of geopolitical loyalties, the technology can make a big difference to the economies.
While 5G infrastructure across Western Europe takes shape, inside Eastern Europe, most countries are at very different stages when it comes to their individual 5G rollouts.
Due to the different technical, legal, or even political contexts, countries of the Balkans are making difficult choices about what to do next.
The Balkan region, where most countries aren’t EU members, is often seen as an arena where the international powers try to create their own influence. Bringing 5G tech to the Balkans is just one of the areas where the big powers are competing, and in this case the main players are the US and China.
North Macedonia, Bulgaria and Kosovo join the Clean Network
During the past few years, most of the region became a part of a US-led 5G security initiative dubbed the “Clean Network“.
North Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Kosovo were the latest countries to join the pact in October 2020, which now has 53 country members and includes 180 telecommunication companies. As the State Department describes, its initiative was created to address “long-term threats to data privacy, security and human rights posed to the free world from authoritarian malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party.”
The declaration specifically mentions Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE as the “untrusted IT vendors”, which the initiative looks to counter.
Huwaei has a large presence in Serbia!
Huawei already has a large presence in the region, thanks to China’s close cooperation with Serbia, which according to many is the most influential country in the Balkan region.
Although the country is not formally a part of the “Clean Network”, during last year Serbian authorities did sign an agreement in Washington with Kosovo, in which they committed to prohibiting the use of 5G equipment from “untrusted vendors”. While names of vendors were not mentioned in the agreement, Serbia continued to pursue its siding with China vs the USA, while Kosovo, on the other hand, has halted all infrastructure investment with Huawei as a brand name.
Back in November, we reported about Telenor rolling out its first 5G Station in the country, with Huawei being the main partner of the project.
Many opportunities with 5G for the region!
Originally slated to begin in 2021, according to ZDNET, Serbia choose to postpone its long-awaited 5G rollout, with Serbian authorities bluntly saying that “people in Serbia currently do not need a 5G network,” although a lack of budget is also likely.
Other countries in the region, though, such as Slovenia and Croatia, are already starting to feel the benefits of introducing 5G networks. Last summer, Telekom Slovenia, the country’s leading provider of ICT services, launched the first 5G mobile network. In Croatia, A1 is also working on introducing 5G Networks to more than 70 cities, with technology from Ericsson.
While countries like Serbia are still hesitant over which vendors to trust for 5G, opportunities to improve their infrastructures and revive boost their economies could prove to be tempting for others, like North Macedonia or Albania, which are at the beginning of the process to introduce 5G. Kosovo, on the other hand, is still behind all neighboring countries.
An early strategy on 5G deployment and frequency licensing, could be a great opportunity to attract investment and also attract industrial production companies and multimedia companies.