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EU awards €260 million for 5G and backbone projects

The European Union has announced the winners of €260 million in grants for the provision of 5G and digital backbone infrastructure under its cross-border connectivity programme.

Mary Lennighan

December 4, 2023

3 Min Read

The European Commission has selected 42 projects out of 69 proposals submitted in the second round of calls for proposals under the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) programme.

As a quick recap, the EU is in phase two of CEF, which covers the 2021-2017 period. The CEF Digital part of the programme has a budget of €1.6 billion and a remit to support and catalyse investment in digital connectivity infrastructures of common European interest. Almost half of that budget is earmarked for "a wide array of projects in digital connectivity between 2021-2023," while almost a quarter is allocated to improving 5G coverage along transport corridors over the same period.

This second funding call represents only a small part of the overall budget, but it is noteworthy nonetheless, the money having been granted – subject to the European Health and Digital Executive Agency (HaDEA) actually signing on the dotted line – to an array of different parties including telecoms operators, infrastructure companies, transport firms, and public and research bodies. The 42 winning projects involve a total of 179 players from 18 countries.

The Commission noted that the winners "will receive funding to deploy safe, secure, and sustainable high-performance 5G and digital backbone infrastructure." The projects range from deployment of 5G infrastructure for local communities and along major European transport corridors, to deployment of submarine cables within and to the EU, it added.

As you might expect, cable systems and gateways sucked up most of the budget. The biggest grant award at €40.5 million will go to Infraestruturas de Portugal for Atlantic CAM, a cable system designed for both communications and sensor capabilities linking mainland Portugal with the Azores and Madeira.

EllaLink secured a €29.9 million grant for the construction and installation of a submarine communication cable connecting French Guiana to Europe via the existing EllaLink main system, while McMahon Design and Management picked up a €29.1 million grant for the Pisces Cable System, which connects the Iberian Peninsula with the west coast of Ireland.

There were also awards in double figures for Cinia for the construction of a modern arctic gateway; Orange for the CELIA Caribbean European Territories Cable; AFR-IX telecom for two separate data gateways between the Atlantic and Mediterranean; and Canalink for the deployment of a new submarine cable between the Islands of El Hierro and Tenerife. There's a link to the full project list here.

While the beneficiaries of the grants are now in the process of signing with HaDEA, the third call for projects under phase two is underway.

The EU opened the third call in late October and it will run until 20 February next year. HaDEA will co-fund projects of common European interest from €51 million to €100 million in three main areas: 5G coverage along transport corridors, that's roads, rail and waterways; 5G and Edge Cloud for Smart Communities; and backbone connectivity for Digital Global Gateways, including submarine cables and satellite ground infrastructure.

But given that it took more than six months between the deadline for proposals and the announcement of the winners in the second call, it could be this time next year, or thereabouts, before we hear about the successful projects in the third.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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