As Europe prepares for the rollout of 5G this summer, Forum Europe gathered over 170 EU policy makers, industry players and civil servants in Brussels on 6 June. The event highlighted key developments in Internet-based technologies and their governance in Europe.
New Age of the Internet
The emergence of hyper-connectivity raises concerns around network readiness, cybersecurity and privacy. To mitigate these challenges and ensure European technology leadership, Pearse O’Donohue of DG Connect spoke of the Commission’s Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative. Its goals? To deliver decentralised, human-centric and energy efficient internet, invest in companies who exhibit these principles and bring data storage closer to users.
This vision gained support from Finland’s Maria Rautavirta (Ministry of Transport and Communications) who spoke of the need for tools to manage decentralised data structures. As a pro-technology member state and the next Presidency of the Council of the EU, Finland is investing in connectivity, seamless interoperability and sectoral development in attempt to achieve a holistic industrial Internet of Things (IoT). Data policy, digital transport and 5G infrastructure will be integral to their strategy.
From the Internet of Things to the “Internet of Humans”
The Internet continues to encourage new data-enabled businesses and social innovation models. The Digital by Choice project by the City of Rotterdam aims to help people, with low literacy, navigate the administrative complexities of the city and become more autonomous thanks to a user friendly app. Discussions considered the challenges to privacy and security of personal data with some panellists arguing that EU instruments – like the GDPR, cybersecurity certification and Trust Services and Electronic identification (eIDAS) – do not go far enough to protect the consumer.
Indeed, civil society organisations Access Now and Internet Society stressed the importance of ensuring that technologies respect human values with privacy and security features for devices built in from the outset.
An alternative solution to address the current challenges relating to privacy and security of personal data is the redistribution of online power from large organisation to users by enabling them to sell their data via crypto-powered tools. Traditionally, data-centric business models have depended on a single central authority for access to data. Now, innovations like blockchain empower data owners to give permissions for access or ownership in a peer-to-peer relationship, while enabling greater transparency across the network. Although not yet fully understood, these properties of blockchain are believed to be crucial for autonomous devices, smart cities and smart services.
5G deployment at a crossroads
The rollout of 5G is not without its challenges. Both mobile operators, such as Vodafone, and network infrastructure providers like Ericsson pointed to the high auction prices of spectrum. High spectrum price risks limiting network investment, including investment in rural coverage, and increasing the price of services for the end consumer. Moreover, as only minority member states have assigned spectrum for 5G, it is crucial to expedite spectrum policy on standardisation and licensing in order to avoid deployment gaps. Other issues include cybersecurity, aggravated by the recent Huawei scandal. While panellists were reluctant to share the nature of their relationship with Huawei, many mobile operators are dependent on the Chinese giant. Further decline in these relationships will inevitably have an impact on timeframes and deployment. Are European leaders, Nokia and Ericsson, in a position to step up?
As the conference drew to an end, it was apparent that emerging data-enabled technologies like 5G, IoT and blockchain have reached the point of convergence. To fully leverage their transformational power, businesses and governments must set long term policy priorities for Europe’s digital future and work collectively towards achieving them.