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Learning from the crisis: the importance of digital communications

photo credit: Getty images / snvv

Dr. Colin Willcock

Chairman of the Board of the 5G IA

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of ICT and digital communications for our modern world. The virus has disrupted peoples’ lives and economies all around the world and triggered unprecedented restrictions at a global level. It is therefore strategically vital that we ensure influence and access to cutting edge digital communication technology moving forward.

It is evident that broadband networks and ICT services enabled governments, public administrations, private companies, research and educational institutions to keep on functioning, even when people where forced to remain at home. Such an unprecedented shift has already pushed some telecommunication networks and services towards their limits; it is therefore important that the networks and ICT services keep on evolving. This evolution requires careful planning, hard work and collaboration between the public and the private sectors.

To energise recovery and ensure long-term prosperity we need to focus on two key areas at both national and European level; maximising 5G and planning for 6G.

Maximising 5G – we still have a way to go

We need to ensure that 5G technology fulfils its full potential. Contrary to popular belief, 5G still has a long development path ahead of it. The first versions are being deployed for consumers needs but many features to maximise its impact on vertical industries are still being standardised or developed.

The promise of 5G is to enable the full digitisation of industry and society. This means addressing many new domains with new requirements. We must ensure that research, trials and standards are developed to support the requirements of these new areas. More than that, we must ensure that the regulatory and financial frameworks are in place to enable fast deployment of the associated technology.

Planning for 6G with a European strategy

Even though 5G still has many years of development ahead, an early focus on 6G is crucial. We need a clear European strategy to retain leadership and influence in this key strategic technological area.

6G should fit European societal values around human dignity, freedom, democracy and equality. It should promote the wellbeing of citizens and combat social exclusion, therefore there is a need for specific European research to ensure that these issues are included.

The European communication networking and services sector is proposing a new research partnership called Smart Networks and Services as part of the future Horizon Europe research programme. The Smart Networks and Services Partnership aims to secure European leadership in the development and deployment of next generation network technologies and services, while accelerating European industry digitisation.

It will position Europe as a lead market and positively impact the citizens’ quality of life, while boosting the European data economy and contributing to ensure European sovereignty in critical supply chains.

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