Network quality vital for Europe’s move to ‘Gigabit Society’

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.com PLC.

Networks getting faster. CeBit, March 2016. [Vodafone/Flickr]

While capacity and speed will always be important, European companies need networks that are exceptionally reliable and adaptable to launch new technologies across Europe, writes Richard Swinford.

Richard Swinford is Partner of Arthur D. Little, an international management consulting firm.

As Europe turns 60, it is time to look forward to the next chapter. How do we ensure that a future-proof communications infrastructure is built to underpin trade within the Digital Single Market?

As the distribution of global economic output spreads regionally and recent political developments create external stresses on trade agreements, flows of goods and interconnected economies, it is essential that Europe has a first-class communications infrastructure. This infrastructure will form the foundations of both the Digital Single Market as a leading global economy and the cradle for the emergence of an inclusive and progressive Gigabit Society.

In Connectivity for a Competitive Digital Single Market – Towards a European Gigabit Society, the European Commission set out its view on the importance of “high performance” internet connectivity for the Digital Single Market and the need for Europe to now deploy the networks required for its digital future. Whilst the Commission does emphasise the importance of future-proof digital infrastructure, and does cite businesses alongside schools, libraries, research centres, and various public service buildings as key locations where it wishes to see such deployments, it is clear the commercial competitiveness of Europe will be defined, at least in part, by the digital readiness of its enterprises.

With this in mind, we asked more than 30 European companies from eight industry sectors for their views on connectivity and their plans for the future. We learned that future proof, fibre-based connectivity and evolving mobile technologies, leading to 5G networks, were already part of their development roadmaps or essential to their expectations of the European communications infrastructure needed to facilitate their growth.

Many of these businesses – from European automotive manufacturers to global pioneers in bioelectronic therapies and rapidly growing SMEs developing new augmented reality experiences – emphasised that whilst their capacity requirements will continue to grow, often exponentially, it is the quality, reliability and performance of these networks which will truly enable them to change the operational working practices and launch new technologies across Europe.

What we learnt from these discussions was that whilst the ‘data tsunami’ will have to be addressed (and likely will be successfully through the evolution of 4G networks, the progressive utilisation of greater ranges of harmonised frequencies and the continued investment of many actors in the ecosystem), it is the quality of the underlying connectivity, and the degree to which this can be ensured, which will truly facilitate the arrival of the technologies that will underpin the Gigabit Society.

So what’s next?

We must ensure that the initiatives put in place to foster the environment in which a Gigabit Society can flourish do recognise the performance expectations of the European industries. It is critical that we encourage the development of networks that ensure the best quality of service, the widest platform for innovation and the sustainable enhancement of infrastructure in the locations where investment will yield greatest socio-economic benefits whilst maintaining social cohesion and equitable opportunity for the citizens of Europe.

5G networks will be about much more than ‘more data, at higher speed, for less cost’. Their resilience, reliability, immediacy and their ability to ‘specialise’ will render them the essential final connection between a plethora of devices and objects, increasingly acting autonomously to work for us as well as to entertain us.

Gigabit networks will deliver benefits to many European consumers and enterprises. In this regard, 5G and ultra-fast fibre networks can be seen as the essential infrastructure that will ensure that Europe remains globally competitive for many decades ahead.