Madrid calling: Telecoms and the Spanish presidency

Madrid calling: Telecoms and the Spanish presidency

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Reindustrialization and green transition are the keywords of the Spanish presidency of the Council of the EU. “The geopolitical, technological and environmental changes currently taking place — they wrote when taking the helm of the Council — provide us with the opportunity to (…) attract new companies and jobs to European soil and reduce our foreign vulnerabilities.”

I agree with this view, and I believe European telecoms companies are going to be part of the solution. According to a recent Eurobarometer, 76 percent of Europeans believe that advanced connectivity will make their daily use of digital technologies significantly better. Also, we know that safe and resilient networks are a key strategic asset. Let me explain more.

Between now and 2030, connectivity will move to the cloud and effectively become a ‘service’.

Future connectivity and Open Strategic Autonomy

The connectivity networks of yesterday were all ‘brick and mortar’. A matter of digging cables into the ground and assembling heavyweight antennas. As we build 5G and fiber networks, the hard work remains (watch how you rollout a Fiber To The Home line!). However, the new networks are becoming more and more intelligent, thanks to the computing capacity they can mobilize. Between now and 2030, connectivity will move to the cloud and effectively become a ‘service’.

If Europe leads this process, connectivity-as-a-service can become a major opportunity for our economies and societies. SMEs, public services or manufacturers will be able to connect to the new, intelligent networks via APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and empower their business models: a revolution similar to the one of the app economy, but extended to the whole of our industrial and societal system.

From an Open Strategic Autonomy perspective, we cannot afford to fail. In a service world, scale matters: unless our telecoms companies can compete on global markets, more and more segments of our connectivity risk being controlled or monetized by non-European entities.

To avoid this risk, we need a financially healthy telecoms sector. One that invests plenty not only in network capacity, but also in inclusive 5G and fiber rollout (no territory should be left behind!) as well as in innovative services. In this, the priorities of the Spanish presidency appear to be highly relevant.

Gigabit networks and the green-digital transition

The presidency is also clear that it wants an EU which leads “the global fight against climate change and does so by creating wealth and new opportunities throughout its territory”. Also on this one, I believe there is a significant alignment with the potential of telecoms networks and services.

As the European Commission recognized, the green and digital transitions go hand in hand as they “reinforce each other”. New 5G and fiber networks offer a major opportunity.

A switch to FTTH will reduce the internet’s carbon emissions by 34 percent.

First, because they are more energy efficient, which reduces both energy consumption and the corresponding carbon footprint. Recent studies showed how a switch to FTTH will reduce the internet’s carbon emissions by 34 percent. Second, new networks are direct enablers of reducing the emissions of all other industrial sectors: according to BCG, this can lead to up to 15 percent cuts to CO2 in Europe. Making this happen requires a digital transformation of our economies. At the European Green Digital Coalition, we are working on use cases: for example, Telia Company is deploying a 5G-powered robot that allows efficient and environmentally conscious farming. Just imagine what we can achieve if we deploy these cases at a European scale.

Policy files: what’s on the table

The vision outlined above requires a positive policy environment. In some cases, it even requires a bold change of direction.

The Spanish presidency will deal with many relevant files. It will need to oversee the signature of the Data Act: when it is implemented, we also need to make sure that EU businesses can grow in the data economy, including when they work with public institutions. Affirming European values in digital spaces will continue requiring regulation, but also new industrial leadership.

Similarly, the AI Act will play a key role in affirming our values in global digital markets. We support the risk-based approach, and we believe in striking the right balance between non-negotiable citizen rights and the need to become industrial leaders. Enabling homegrown innovation is very important if we are to affirm a European way to AI.

Together with AI, the Cyber Resilience Act should continue to be a top priority. We are faced every day with new cyberattacks, including against networks and their services. The act recognized that all in the value chain need to take up their share of responsibility: either all parts of the chain are resilient, or we might put the whole ecosystem at risk.

Being bold on what’s next

Because we live in disruptive times, sticking to a linear approach to policymaking will not cut it. This is why we very much support the debate around the European Commission’s “Future of Connectivity” consultation. In a joint response of ETNO and the GSMA, we pointed to the policy changes that can help Europe seize the connectivity-as-a-service opportunity. We need new policies to enable scale in the telecoms sector so it is globally competitive. We need governments and the EU to lower those regulatory barriers that currently prevent a real telecoms single market. We need a legislative framework establishing a fair contribution by Big Tech to the investment effort of telecoms operators rolling-out inclusive fiber and 5G networks.

I believe that all of this is highly compatible with the Spanish presidency’s priorities. They got the big picture right: Europe is in a lead or lose situation. Let us now take action and make sure we lead for the benefit of all European citizens.


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