On 30 June 2021, The GSMA and EIF hosted the 7th annual high-level virtual discussion on ‘Europe’s Digital Transformation: Now to 2030’ in the context of the MWC21 Barcelona, bringing together legislators, regulators, and stakeholders in the EIF and GSMA networks.
Daniel Pataki, GSMA’s Vice President for Policy and Regulation & Head of Europe, Russia and CIS, opened proceedings by sharing a few takeaways from the MWC Ministerial Programme. First and foremost, all policymakers, regulators and ministers are on the same page: “globally, the time has come to make things happen”. Even though there is still a lot of work to do in terms of regulation, investment, return on investment (ROI), Mr. Pataki highlighted that this can only be done through partnerships between policymakers, industry, and regulators.
Pilar del Castillo, MEP and EIF chair, stated her delight that the MWC is back in Barcelona and that EIF and GSMA can hold their traditional roundtable. According to MEP del Castillo, the pandemic has shown the importance of connectivity as a precondition of the gigabyte society. Today with 5G, the MEP added, we are taking a quantitative leap and an entire ecosystem of technologies will benefit. Many of the challenges that Europe will have to face are yet unknown and will require a digital forward-looking approach and strong leadership with regard to digital policymaking. This requires global efforts and coordination.
Europe 2030: What will it take to reach Europe’s Digital Decade targets?
Anthony Whelan, Digital Policy Adviser, Cabinet of President von der Leyen, European Commission, shared a compelling example of how Europe can do digital well if we are all rowing in the right direction: the EU Digital Covid Certificate. Before 1st of July, more than 20 Member States are issuing and verifying certificates, running the system via the EU Gateway prepared in a privacy-friendly way. In Mr. Whelan’s opinion, one of the ways to obtain cohesion around Europe’s objectives is by getting Member States in the European Parliament to endorse both the targets and the system for monitoring and delivery on them. Regulation is important to give clarity and legal security in certain points, but it needs to be accompanied by measures to drive take-up, investment, relevant skills. This is where, Mr. Whelan added, national plans under the Next Generation EU plan come up.
Susana Solis MEP, reiterated the urgency of a successful digital transformation and that she fully supports the Commission’s targets: If we want to become globally competitive, we need to reach the goals we have set. This will require commitments and more cooperation but also huge amounts of investment, both private and public, added the MEP. “We need to make sure that the Member States deliver, and we should ask ourselves: Are the national recovery plans ambitious enough for the Digital Decade targets?” A policy framework is needed that will enable the EU to attract more private investments: a sound legal framework, that respects European values, without hampering innovation. Finally, MEP Solis highlighted the necessity of investing in people, in order to modernise our education and training systems.
In Axel Voss MEP’s view, digital transformation is a matter of global competition and Europe is lagging behind other regions in the world. Europe needs more political leadership, especially at national level, a plan to prioritise and invest accordingly. Current investments are not enough, MEP Voss added, we need to step up and have a lot of developments in parallel. “We are politically fragmented, which is a time-consuming issue. We are taking too much time for something that is already on the agenda”. In conclusion, MEP Voss argued that, in a data-driven world, data are not only a question of fundamental rights and protection, but it’s also a competition issue and therefore we must strike the balance better between protecting privacy and having innovation and developments.
“Those who set the standards today are those who will have leverage on international markets tomorrow”, ITRE Chair and MEP Cristian-Silviu Bușoi commenced his speech. According to MEP Bușoi, Europe will need to meet both the green and the digital challenges by 2030 in order to make the transition. We would like to see a clearer and more feasible industrial policy related to digital. For many years, one of the main challenges was to stimulate economic growth while making the green transition. One that fosters new technologies, while protecting intellectual property and reducing carbon footprint, MEP Bușoi added. The European Parliament is working on improving the DSA and DMA legislations: “I am advocating for a balanced approach and I believe that we should concentrate more on a faster implementation of 5G and start really creating the right incentives for AI investments in the EU”.
The role of 5G connectivity in driving Europe’s economic recovery during and post COVID-19
Bart Groothuis, MEP underlined the huge potential and strategic importance of 5G. For this reason, according to MEP Groothuis, politicians should get more involved in technologies in order to understand also the risks behind 5G. The fact that 5G is very local can give a huge boost to local economies and regions: if municipalities and local governments move fast, they can really benefit from 5G and its development. In Brussels, said the MEP, we want to make sure that we have like-minded countries dealing with the technology and supply chain. If we want to make 5G a success, we have now to engage in 6G. All the European countries have to profit and universities should be involved so that ecosystems knowledge, research and development is spread across Europe.
Michel Van Bellinghen, Chairman of the Council of the Belgian Institute for Postal Services and Telecommunications (BIPT) and BEREC Chair 2021, made clear the work and objectives of BEREC in promoting full connectivity in line with the European regulatory framework: accelerate fiber deployment and the rollout of 5G networks. Ten years from now, said Mr. Van Bellinghen, we will acknowledge the impressive role played by the Covid pandemic and the Next Generation EU fund in promoting a boom in supply and demand for digital and technological goods and services. To mobilise huge investments both in fixed and mobile networks, an efficient system and harmonised rules in Europe are needed, taking into account the state of the network infrastructure and the new societal needs, including the green focus.
According to Eva Kaili, MEP and and EIF Steering Committee Member, it is crucial to have a strategy on how 5G will be deployed and start discussing the 6G connectivity to unlock the potential of these technologies. It is fundamental to make sure that we will have safe software and hardware development and that Europe will have control not only of the infrastructure but also of the metadata. There is the need to urgently invest in pan-European high-speed connectivity and infrastructure, increasing the funding for quality networks. MEP Kaili suggested the creation of a central authority that would make sure that the deployment is made in a proper and safe manner, also to ensure effective and transparent processes that would permit the accelerated rollout of the very high-capacity infrastructures.
Ben Wreschner, Chief Economist and Head of Public Affairs, Vodafone Group and member of Policy Group Europe, GSMA, from an operator perspective, focused on how the new capabilities of 5G constitute, despite the risks, a very big opportunity in terms of economic recovery, industry 4.0, data analytic and industrial progress in Europe and beyond. Digital infrastructure is absolutely critical, said Mr. Wreschner: in order to make the most out of 5G connectivity and build an inclusive industry 4.0 and digital society, there is the need to address the divides that have been exposed during the last 18 months, namely to increase digital skills, to include SMEs, to close regional infrastructure gaps.
Collaboration among industry, government and regulators is essential. Moreover, time is critical and we need to make sure that all the money we invest in infrastructure really delivers the value.