The Concert Noble in Brussels is an ornately decorated 19th century venue famous for its balls attended by the Belgian, Austrian and Hungarian nobility. But last week, this historical and majestic setting played host to scenes that looked far ahead into the future. It was the site of Vodafone’s Digital Enabler Showcase, where we demonstrated the role connectivity plays in enabling Europe’s Digital Decade and building resilience.
European Union decision-makers flocked to the Concert Noble to see real-life examples of how the latest 5G digital technologies are being used to transform and accelerate the EU’s Digital and Green Transitions. It is one thing to talk about Europe’s Digital Decade and the opportunities offered by 5G and other technologies, but it is quite another to actually see them.
On display on the ballroom floor were applications in medicine, farming, education and smart cities. Visitors could try on virtual reality glasses and see a live 3D model of a heart, experiencing for themselves how it would be for doctors to take surgical instructions from afar. They could put themselves in classrooms and see how digital technologies are creating immersive teaching environments that take students into virtual blood vessels, to other galaxies or to periods in history. And they could see a robot dog showing how it uses 5G technologies to enter locations too perilous for humans.
Vodafone brought these applications to Brussels because we want to show EU policy chiefs, business leaders and media how the future is already here. Digital technology is ready for 5G and the Industry 4.0 revolution. We are ready to enable them. Europe’s innovators are ready to make the most of them.
These technologies will power Europe’s future. As we emerge from the pandemic and roll out plans to build back better, we need to put digital at the heart of the recovery. If Europe is to compete globally, foster talent, build resilience, combat inequality and fight the climate crisis, then governments need to work in partnership. If we are to accelerate the Digital Decade, we need to work together.
Our Showcase included a special Politico Live special debate on the Digital Decade 2030 targets, a crucial subject in the light of the current war with Ukraine and the urgent need to enhance Europe’s resilience in the fields of cybersecurity, as well as reduce external dependencies in critical sectors.
European Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager explained how the situation in Ukraine made us realise that we have much more to do in key areas like security and resilience. “Industry has been paving the way in this crisis and demonstrating how the public and private sectors can work together to drive digital transformation in Europe,” she said. We agree.
At the event, we also heard from Vodafone chief executive officer Nick Read; MEP Dita Charanzová; Commission Recovery and Resilience Task Force (RECOVER) director María Teresa Fàbregas Fernández; Deputy director for space, electronic and software in France’s Ministry for Economy and Finance Julie Galland; and European DIGITAL SME Alliance secretary general Sebastiano Toffaletti.
However, there is still have a long way to go before we can create the Digital Decade. The Showcase was also the occasion to unveil a report from Deloitte commissioned by Vodafone which reveals how far the EU still has to go. Achieving the Digital Decade: Recovery & Resilience Plan Contributions shows that the national and EU recovery plans for connectivity amount to just 46% of the estimated €210bn EU-wide investment needed to meet 2025 targets. And, alas, under the current trajectory, the EU will reach the 60% transformational 5G target ten years after China.
But I believe Europe can get on track. The Digital Decade targets are the right ones. We know the challenge of finding investment for digital technology – and the Ukraine war will have economic costs that will make it even harder. As a result, we must be braver in unleashing private investment.
Vodafone is committed to being part of the process. As the largest pan-European technology communications company with services reaching more than 61% of the EU27 population, we are ready to be an enabler. The services we provide are critical to addressing the political, economic, societal, environmental and security challenges Europe and the world continue to face. Our IoT, digital platforms and high-speed connectivity are the backbone of European industry 4.0, helping automotive, healthcare, construction, agriculture and many more sectors become more productive and compete globally.
We want to build a future with these technologies. Bringing them to Brussels is just the beginning of what we are ready to do.
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