The Digital Compass must have ambitious objectives
Finland is a pioneer in the digital realm, and it has done many things right. The digital infrastructure has been built on market terms, and it has encouraged competition between enterprises. Success on market terms should continue to be the primary objective, and state aid should only be used as a secondary solution based on detailed impact assessments.
Finland’s forward-looking communication policy is a further factor in this success. We were the first EU country to allocate all the existing 5G frequencies, and operators rapidly began building commercial networks as soon as they received their operating licences.
The entire EU needs to get up to digital speed
The EU’s focal areas include exploiting 5G, and this will be one of the most important factors in boosting productivity. However, there is a risk of the EU lagging behind in 5G development. In 2020, the first 5G frequencies should already have been in use in all Members States. Some countries came nowhere near meeting this target. Surprisingly, Sweden only held its first spectrum auctions this year.
Digital development needs to be brought to the forefront throughout Europe in order for Finland to gain a competitive benefit from the advances it has made. Thanks to its high capacity and speed and low latency, 5G lays the foundation for emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality applications, processing data masses, edge computing, and the development of automation and robotics. The EU internal market is extremely important for solutions that use 5G, and it is frustrating that Finland is forced to wait for the other Member States to catch up.
Monitoring of 5G adoption added to the DESI survey
The European Commission has created a Digital Compass to monitor the realisation of EU objectives. It is sensible to monitor digital development more closely to gain an up-to-date overview. According to the Digital Compass, the basic monitoring tool is the European Commission’s annual DESI survey, which has now ranked Finland 2nd out of the 27 EU Member States. The difference between the leading nations (Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and the Netherlands) and those at the other end of the scale (Greece, Romania, and Bulgaria) is growing. Ambitious targets and a common European digital vision are necessary. However, they are of limited use unless all Member States promote development.
The EU has made 5G one of the flagship initiatives of its recovery plan and fund: a substantial proportion of the digitalisation budget should be spent on constructing 5G networks. The preliminary plans published by many Member States, including Germany and Italy, state their intentions to do this. The EU aims to have urban areas and major roads covered by 5G by 2025. In Finland’s view, this is a modest target because, by then, 5G will cover every household in Finland.
Indeed, the set of indicators included in DESI should be expanded to monitor the distribution of 5G technologies in the Member States. At the same time, information is needed regarding the adoption of technologies that make use of 5G infrastructure.
Progressive, coherent decision-making leads to growth
However, objectives and overviews alone are not enough. The digital vision must be genuinely incorporated into decision-making. Cost-efficiency and innovation must be encouraged. The decisions made by the European Commission and national governments also need to be evaluated according to how well they promote the topic.
The digital sector does not need state aid, but it does need progressive, coherent decision-making. A technology-agnostic mindset must permeate the legislative process, and states must remain strictly within their roles as enablers. Both of these issues are self-evident, but they seem to be easily overlooked when decisions are made.