Fiber optics and 5G for the relaunch of the economic and social fabric

The central role of digitalization for the economic and social recovery of Italy

Among the 102 ideas for the relaunch of the country after the Covid-19 emergency, contained in the 121 pages of the Colao Plan discussed at the Stati Generali dell'Economia at Villa Pamphili, digitalization has a central role. The lockdown has demonstrated this: a more digital and connected country is needed to continue working even in crisis situations and, at the same time, most of the bureaucratic procedures that characterize the life and work of Italians can be digitized. But between saying and doing there is the sea of the digital divide and the need to extend the connection infrastructures that already exist: fiber optics and 5G, first of all.

In Colao's master plan, fiber optics and 5G occupy a prominent place: over and over again in the document the need not to stop the development of these two technological assets is reiterated. In fact, one of the nine points into which the document is divided is entirely dedicated to the digitalization of the country. In the section entitled "A Digital Country", Colao's plan stresses the need to extend access to the fiber optic network to all Italian regions and cities and to accelerate investments for the adoption of 5G connections.

Fiber Optics and 5G: what the Colao Plan says

One of the plan's tabs, number 25 (National Fiber Plan), highlights that the lockdown has widened the gap "between those who can rely on ultra-broadband (UBB) connections and those who are now without/are located in areas with inadequate coverage" and calls for specific actions to "Create a national fiber development plan" to quickly connect households, businesses and public administration with pure fiber (FTTH, Fiber To The Home).

Sheet 27 (5G Network Development), instead, highlights how in Italy the technical limits related to electromagnetic emissions are slowing down the development of the new generation data network. The Italian limits, in fact, are "much more restrictive than those in force in most other European countries, which in turn are well below the assumed limits of harmfulness". According to the plan under discussion today, therefore, Italy should equip itself with a single national network for fiber optics and make investments to make the connection accessible even in the most remote areas of the country through 5G.

In the debate and in the plan, then, there are other issues closely related to the digital future: from robotics to cybersecurity, from the Internet of Things to the use of artificial intelligence. But there is also no shortage of digital payments and the development of a plan for Agriculture 4.0, in turn linked to the spread of broadband and ultra-wideband networks in rural areas.

Fiber and 5G: the Italian situation

The Colao Plan highlights that, in a market like the Italian one characterized by very advantageous prices for the end user, the margins for those who offer connections are relatively low. Charging private companies entirely with the costs of infrastructure in less attractive areas, such as rural areas or many small Italian municipalities, does not allow adequate returns to guarantee investments.

In this scenario, therefore, public support for fiber and 5G investments is necessary. Also because, the Plan does not say it but logic shows it, if fast connections do not arrive on the whole Italian territory in a uniform way, it is impossible to think about the digitalization of the Public Administration. In fact, Italy would be divided into "A" series municipalities, where bureaucracy is digitized, and "B" series municipalities, where people are still queuing at the counter.

From theory to practice: among the various telephone operators active in Italy today, there is Vodafone, for example, which with its ultra-wideband network already reaches more than 3 million customers on the fixed line and has activated the 5G service in five Italian cities (Milan, Rome, Naples, Bologna and Turin). The operator, with the FWA service (the connection in mixed fiber-radio technology, to bring fast Internet even where fiber FTTH does not yet arrive), also aims to ensure an ultra-fast and stable connection in more than 2,000 municipalities not reached by fiber optics. It is clear, therefore, that private operators are already doing their part and well before Covid (it is about investments and multi-year programs, launched years ago), but it is equally clear that the public must also do its own.