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Looking forward to a Smarter Future

Across the world governments are constantly revising their digital policies, and with the top roles changing in the European Union institutions this year, it is likely a new digital policy will emerge in Europe. 

This constant revision and analysis of digital policy comes down to the fact that technology is moving so fast. New issues are arising all the time and so regulators and policymakers are continually thinking about how they should react to them. 

Digital policymaking is also moving further up the hierarchical ladder, a matter now for presidents, prime ministers and the highest levels of government. This is because the impact of digital is being felt across all sectors. Big policy decisions are in the pipeline. 

Huawei’s contribution

It is against this background that Huawei has been assessing how we can make a contribution. This definitely does not constitute an attempt to write the agenda for the European institutions – they know their business much better than we do – but we would like to draw on our experience across the world talking to governments about digital policy, weighing our insights together with European policymaking.

Huawei feels it can bring some ideas as to what the critical questions and challenges will be over the months and years to come. This is the motivation behind our position paper, “Choose a Smarter Future”. In it we outline 10 digital challenges we think need addressing in Europe. We don’t attempt to give the full answers to these challenges but do give some thought as to how to these issues might be tackled. 

1.    Increasing productivity. Digital policy needs to become an integral part of the macroeconomic policy agenda. The European Semester, the framework for the coordination of economic policies across the European Union, should systematically include country-specific recommendations to enhance the use of digital technologies in the Member States.

2.    Sustainability. The digital industry must step up to become greener. It has the potential to reduce carbon emissions in other sectors by a factor of 10. But, as the positive impact is felt across the board, such as in less traffic congestion, there may be rebound effects we need to be wary of, for example by more drivers returning to less congested roads. 

3.    Skills. Not just a question of the employability of graduates, citizens in general must become more educated in digital knowhow. They need to be more security aware and taught to identify fake news, for instance. Coding could eventually become as important as reading and writing - it will become a “civilisation skill” – now that computers are all around us.

4.    The Gigabit Society. The EU should set the most ambitious target for full gigabit coverage across its territory. A hybrid infrastructure consisting of fibre networks and 5G-enabled fixed wireless access will be the key to achieving it.

5.    5G will deliver a quantum leap for people and the economy if policymakers help address deployment issues. These include spectrum, local regulations, security requirements, and electromagnetic exposure concerns.

6.    Telecom operators. Europe needs to recognise the role of its telecom operators in building gigabit connectivity and as global players. This involves helping them become more profitable by reducing the regulatory burden and by opening up more investment opportunities.

7.    Cities. Smart cities, at the centre of digital transformation, need more support to reach their full potential. Policymakers need to address issues related to mindset (overcoming silo thinking), money (investments are hampered by a lack of business cases) and management (complexities create a dissuasive level of risk).

8.    Mobility. The EU should approach ‘connected mobility’ by looking at the bigger picture. A ‘Master Plan’ could set out an implementation agenda guiding the actions of the many actors involved.

9.    AI. Artificial Intelligence will be of great benefit to humanity and should be addressed as such. It is not a race. It is about innovating, finding practical solutions to ethical issues, and working together at the global level.

10.   Cybersecurity. As a shared responsibility, cyber security remains on any digital agenda. Collectively, we should strive to find more systemic solutions, making cyberattacks much more difficult at system level. More international cooperation, including global companies, to fight cybercrime will make the digital economy a safer place.

Mindset, implementation and investment

We have identified three factors that we think will determine how effectively these challenges will be addressed.

The first is mindset. Attitude will be everything in guiding digital policy through so that it benefits the whole of society. There is currently too much scepticism about the digital society, at the same time as we have already begun using it. The digital agenda needs to be set at the very top level and pervasive. It needs to be at the core of educational reforms, for example. We need to take full advantage of the unique opportunities offered by AI.

It is obviously not just enough to think about digital. We should not over-theorise. 5G, for instance, needs implementation and now. Regulatory guidance is fine, but governments and lawmakers must make a much bigger effort to inform businesses (particularly SMEs) and citizens about what new regulations are for and how they can comply with them. Too much money goes to consultants paid to interpret and explain legislation to organisations – that is money which could, for example, be more effectively invested in networks.

There cannot be too much Investment in digital. It will proportionately drive growth in the rest of the economy: networks in rural areas, digital road infrastructure, IoT networks in cities, to name just a few areas crying out for investment now. 

The choice is clear for Europe. The public sector must create the conditions for private investment or invest more itself. As policy moves to a higher level, there is a need for both evidence and good advice from the industry. This is the purpose of Huawei’s new position paper.

Choose a Smarter Future – a Contribution to Europe’s Next Digital Policy