5G: Finland is doing the right things

“There is nothing in the way for Finland to have perhaps the best 5G network in Europe and perhaps the world”, says Daniel Gueorguiev, Public Policy Manager, GSMA.

Daniel Gueorguiev, Public Policy Manager, GSMA

How do you see Finland’s global position in 5G development?

Finland will trail only Norway in Europe, with 47% of people connected with 5G at the end of 2025, according to GSMA Intelligence forecasts. In that respect, Finland will be on par with Japan, and not far behind the US with 51%. Globally, we see South Korea in first place, but we expect China to catch up quickly as all three telecoms operators turned on their networks a couple of weeks ago. In this global view, Finland is doing comparatively well.

What those numbers do not tell you is what the quality of the 5G services will be like and how that will impact the wider digital economy. The choices made by Finland to ensure the best possible connectivity are what sets it apart from many countries in Europe and around the rest of the world.

What has Finland done right with 5G?

Although it may sound obvious, many countries do not prioritise connectivity. Finnish policy makers all agree that come what may, connectivity must be a political priority and ensured for all. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly is that this political priority has translated into actual policies.

One of the things that Finland has done well is to create a policy and regulatory regime that enables the creation of a ripe environment for 5G to not just grow and develop but flourish.

The second one is on radio spectrum. Finland has for a very long time encouraged Europe to take a forward-looking approach to spectrum policy, and we see it with how Finland has approached the pioneer bands for 5G. Finland was among the first to award the 700MHz and did so with the objective to foster investment and better coverage, reducing the cost of the frequencies and allowing mobile operators to use that capital towards building their networks.

It has also allocated the whole core of the band, the 2x30MHz, to mobile. On the C-Band, Finland was especially innovative and pragmatic, deserving praise for allocating 130MHz per operator. The mobile industry aims for 100MHz per operators so having nearly 30% more means better coverage and capacity, giving it self a significant edge over other countries.

The government and regulator also chose, rather than segment the frequencies and allocate them to vertical industries like some European countries are doing, to keep the efficiencies and benefits of larger, contiguous blocks and include license obligations instead. This allows the market to solve the supply and demand for verticals while providing policy makers with the option of obliging operators, should they not agree on commercial arranges themselves, to lease the frequencies to the different vertical industries.

It is also important to emphasise that Finland is ensuring deployment does not become a future bottleneck. The first way Finland does that is by complying with the international safety guidelines and European recommendations on electromagnetic fields (EMF). Finland has always complied with EMF guidelines, while a large number of countries in Europe and globally do not. This is already an issue for current 3G and 4G networks making them significantly inefficient, with poor coverage and indoor penetration. Those countries will suffer even further as the new 5G frequencies will have even shorter propagation characteristics making it nearly impossible to use them unless the EMF limits are raised to levels recommended by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.

Practically, this means there is nothing in the way for Finland to have perhaps the best 5G network in Europe and perhaps the world. In addition, Finland has a small-cell policy to enable the quick rollout of cells that are under certain size and power levels. This issue should not be underestimated as the quick and efficient deployment of 5G entirely depends on how easy it is to put new antennas and base stations on the ground and on this front Finland is doing a fantastic job.

What can we do better?

These is little that Finland can do better given how well it is doing already. Perhaps the most difficult element or the one that could hold Finland back is the cross-border coordination with Russia. An area which Finland is doing already very well, but one that nonetheless possess a considerable issue, especially since the agreement with Russia is not final. This means that in the interim there is much less spectrum available to use because of interference issues in the C-Band. Therefore, completing this agreement as soon as possible is paramount to reap the befits I mentioned earlier.

Perhaps an area for improvement could be further streamlining the siting process, potentially having a one-stop shop for approval countrywide.

What will be the most important benefits of 5G?

The benefits of 5G will be felt in the short term by an increase in speed capacity and overall better quality of services. In the long term though, the benefit will be demonstrated by business and industries that will leverage this level of connectivity.

As such, new business models and services like AR/VR, AI and massive IoT will improve the lives of billions of people globally in ways that no one will expect. All of that, will entirely depend on how good and widespread connectivity is. Therefore, ensuring the basic policies are in place to make it a reality is paramount, the benefits are limitless.