GIGAEurope, the industry association of private investors in gigabit connectivity, has celebrated its launch by bringing together policymakers MEP Miapetra Kumpula-Natri and Anthony Whelan, Digital Policy Adviser in the Cabinet of President von der Leyen, plus senior industry executives from Vodafone Group, Liberty Global, VodafoneZiggo and Telenet.
The event highlighted how the coronavirus pandemic surged network occupancy, as home working, online learning, remote healthcare services and digital public services drastically increased. Research by OMDIA shows the impact of Covid-19 and lockdowns throughout Europe on the use of online services:
According to GIGAEurope, investment in network upgrades year-on-year in terms of higher speeds, lower latency and more bandwidth – well ahead of the pandemic – allowed broadband networks to manage the unprecedented spikes in Internet traffic.
It notes that next to their core network related business, connectivity providers have taken special measures to keep everybody connected during the pandemic: social tariffs, removal of data caps, and tailored connectivity solutions for hospitals and schools.
Noting that the DESI 2020 report by the European Commission states that currently 44 per cent of EU households have access to a connection of 1 Gbps or more, Joakim Reiter, Co-chair of GIGAEurope and Group External Affairs Director, Vodafone Group, said though its networks showed resilience during the pandemic, Europe is still far from achieving its Gigabit Society goals for 2025. “Reaching the EU gigabit target of 1 Gbps for all European households by 2025 requires a concerted effort. A mix of gigabit technologies, mobile and fix, is needed. Policymakers and all stakeholders within the digital ecosystem are standing at a critical junction and need to partner to co-create Europe’s Digital Decade,” he declared.
“The demand side has now increased a lot compared to the times when we were regulating the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC),” noted Kumpula-Natri. The crisis showed how much data can help society. There is no data society if we do not have connectivity everywhere. I call for investments and for a culture of data sharing and skills at all levels to reap the possibilities unlocked by the investments.”
“We need progressive upgrades of our networks preferable before demand accumulates in a surge, as we see that life and workstyles are transforming,” stated Whelan. “Also a message to public authorities in areas where the market cannot meet the new normal life style, including types of economic growth underpinned by remote working: it is more urgent than ever to support industry roll-out with various types of public support, but only where needed. That is one reason why in the EU recovery plan, we have put a lot of emphasis on connectivity as one of the flagships that Member States should integrate in their national recovery plans.”
The GIGAEurope launch event demonstrated how the new association wants to create an open dialogue with regulators, governments and politicians. A panel discussion elaborated on complementary public funding and creating the optimal conditions for private operators to invest in gigabit networks.
“We support the Commission’s initiative of fostering national recovery plans that balance efficient public spending with creating conditions best suited for private investment,” advised Manuel Kohnstamm, Co-chair of GIGAEurope and Senior Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Liberty Global. “Immediate priorities for accelerating the gigabit ambitions relate to reduction of the cost of deploying very high capacity networks and to ensuring investment-friendly 5G spectrum licensing approaches.”.
“Consolidation is to be encouraged to foster strong European telco competitors and create a real internal market for telecom services,” he added, applauding Europe being more open to M&A activity in the telecom industry, as the EU Commission recently demonstrated in various merger files.
It was also noted that he connectivity sector plays a significant role in driving Europe’s green transition. As part of the overall Green Deal climate neutrality objective for the EU, a sector-specific target of zero carbon emission by 2030 has been set for telecommunications networks and data centres.
By connecting SMEs and socio-economic operators to gigabit networks, providers also act as a catalyst for the greening of the European economy more broadly. Gigabit connections facilitate the use of smart technologies for sustainable business operations, remote working, distance learning or digital health.
“Gigabit infrastructure is a cornerstone of Europe’s technology leadership and digital competitiveness ambitions,” asserted Irina Varlan, Managing Director of GIGAEurope. “Members of GIGAEurope are key players in the European digital ecosystem, who jointly deliver on the promise of the data economy and democratise access to emerging technologies. Gigabit connections and seamless fixed/mobile connectivity solutions are ready to power European Cloud, IoT, AI and smart green solutions at scale.”
GIGAEurope builds on the legacy of trade body Cable Europe, active since 1955. “With the connectivity industry having undergone major technical advances, the launch of GIGAEurope symbolises the shift towards gigabit connectivity and the convergence of fixed and mobile networks undertaken by private investors in this sector. It was therefore time for private investors in very high capacity networks to relaunch its collaboration under a strengthened voice. And this voice is GIGAEurope,” it concluded.