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As the early deployment of 5G infrastructure across Western Europe is taking shape, in Eastern Europe most countries are at very different stages when it comes to their individual 5G deployments. Due to different technical, legal or even political contexts, these countries make difficult choices about what to do next.
The Balkan region, where most countries are not members of the EU, is often seen as an arena where international powers try to create their own spheres of influence. The introduction of 5G technology to the Balkans is just one of the areas where the great powers compete, and in this case the main players are the United States and China.
In recent years, most of the region has been part of a US-led 5G security initiative dubbed the “Clean Network”. North Macedonia, Bulgaria and Kosovo were the last countries to join the pact in October 2020, which To 53 member countries and includes 180 telecommunications companies. Like the State Department describe, its initiative was created to address “long-term threats to data privacy, security and human rights posed to the free world by malicious authoritarian actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party.”
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The statement specifically mentions Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE as the “untrustworthy IT vendors,” which the initiative seeks to counter.
Huawei already has a strong presence in the region, thanks to China’s close cooperation with Serbia, which many say is the most influential country in the Balkan region. Although the country is not officially part of the Clean Network, over the past year, Serbian authorities have sign an economic cooperation agreement with Washington, in which they pledged to ban the use of 5G equipment from “untrusted suppliers”. However, in this particular deal, there was no direct mention of China or suppliers like Huawei.
According to Vuk Vuksanovic, researcher in international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), the example of Serbia shows that the region is already in a difficult situation when it comes to taking sides in the American conflict. -Chinese.
“No specific mention of Huawei or China, but everyone knows this is the fish the United States wants to fry. Nations in the region will find it increasingly difficult to strike a balance between China and the United States. Like the Sino-American rivalry. is intensifying, as does the US pullback against China, including against Huawei’s 5G ambitions in the region, ”Vuksanovic told ZDNet.
Originally slated for 2021, Serbia has also chosen to postpone its long-awaited 5G deployment, with Serbian authorities bluntly stating that “Serbs do not currently need a 5G network” despite a lack of budget. is also likely.
However, other countries in the region, such as EU member Slovenia and Croatia, are already starting to feel the benefits of the introduction of 5G networks. Over the past summer, Telekom Slovenia, the country’s leading ICT service provider, launched the first 5G mobile network. The expansion of the transport capacities of existing mobile networks and the further technological development of IoT were among the main reasons for the introduction of 5G in Slovenia.
“As every future begins with the first step, we have chosen to begin by completing a scalable upgrade of existing mobile technology, based on established safe and secure standards that we have mastered and upgraded for a few decades,” Matjaz Bericic , Telekom CTO of Slovenia, told ZDNet.
“In the coming years, we are planning at least two major phases in the development of 5G. Business and residential users have a safe and secure future in our network.
The company also plans to launch its 5G public mobile network in the form of ‘campus’ networks, where a single physical infrastructure can host multiple dedicated virtual networks for various industries, such as energy supply, transportation, logistics. , manufacturing, smart cities, healthcare, protection and rescue, explained Bericic.
In neighboring Croatia, Austrian mobile operator A1 is also working to introduce 5G networks in more than 70 cities. Both operators use Ericsson technology.
“A1 experts are working intensely on the latest radio access technologies. A 5G network based on dynamic spectrum sharing technology will soon be ready in more than 70 cities. This technology allows 5G networks to be activated on the bands. existing frequencies and thus accelerates the availability of 5G to the end user, ”A1 Croatia told ZDNet in a statement.
While the potential for using 5G may be vast, the region would benefit the most from the connectivity, infrastructure and reliable services that this technology brings.
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While countries like Serbia are still hesitant about which 5G providers to trust, the opportunities to improve their infrastructure and revive their economies could prove tempting for others, like North Macedonia or Albania. , which are at the start of the 5G introduction process.
“A reliable connectivity infrastructure becomes an indispensable product, like electricity or water. Petar Popovski, professor of wireless connectivity at Aalborg University in Denmark, told ZDNet.
“In this sense, an early strategy on 5G deployment and spectrum licensing could be a great opportunity for the region, as it can be seen as part of the cutting edge infrastructure that can attract investment. of, for example, industrial production companies or multimedia production companies. . “