Saskia van Uffelen, Digital Champion for Belgium, CEO of Bull and CSB Consulting

Super-High-Speed Internet and the Smart-School Generation

Saskia van Uffelen, Digital Champion for Belgium, CEO of Bull and CSB Consulting

A few years from now, half the world’s population will have access to super-high-speed Internet. In Belgium, and in other European countries, different operators are focusing ever more on making Internet faster, writes Saskia van Uffelen, Belgian Digital Champion, CEO at Ericsson Belux

In our country, operator Telenet announced at the end of August that it will provide the Internet of the future: a network with a 1 gigahertz capacity, and an Internet speed of 1 gigabyte per second.

Today, Belgium is already at the forefront of European broadband infrastructure. This is a result of the healthy competition between the historical operator, Belgacom, and the new cable operators, such as Telenet, amongst others.

A study led by American technology company Akamai puts Belgium in the seventh spot worldwide with regard to very fast Internet connections in the 2013 “State of the Internet” report. Continuing investment in (notably) the telecom infrastructure remains necessary for all European countries to either stay at the top or make up for their arrears.

In addition, LTE – better known as 4G – and 5G are finding their way to more and more people at lightning speed. LTE is one of the fastest-developing systems in the history of mobile communication.

According to the Ericsson Mobility Report 2014 there are today more than 6.8 billion mobile subscriptions in the world. By the end of 2019 that total is expected to hit 9.2 billion. It’s expected that, by 2020, there will be some 50 billion-odd devices connected to the Internet, which will have an enormous impact not only on the lives of millions of people, but also on the world of business and society at large.

Today, no less than 91% of the world’s population has access to mobile communication. Furthermore, data traffic will do nothing but skyrocket in the future.

Even though it may appear that these digital and mobile evolutions are appearing quickly, in truth, this will never happen so slowly in the future as it does now. Most notably, the business community has to step up the pace. If all the innovative technologies are truly operational by 2020, businesses won’t ever be ready for them in 2020.

The Networked Society, in which the Internet is connected to everything and everyone and impacts everything and everyone, isn’t as far away as we might think. Thanks to innovations, faster Internet and other technological inventions, the possibilities appear more infinite every day, but businesses aren’t capitalizing on them, or not enough. They don’t give a moment’s thought to the nature of their company, their sector, their core business and the competition in 2020, and they barely even consider the impact The Networked Society will have on all of those aspects.

Right now, many companies are still focusing on cost management, whereas the focus of The Networked Society is on how we can collaborate, on access to information and the ways in which we can share this information. The Networked Society far outstrips the evolution we’re going through right now. In the nascent stages of the Internet, over thirty years ago, digital entertainment and communication products began to influence our economy.

Quickly afterwards, channels for conveying digital information, such as forums, blogs, communities and e-commerce started to play an increasingly important role. Today, digitization is bringing about a second economy, which is sizeable, automated and even invisible. It carries with the greatest change since the industrial revolution.

Digital competences

In this new economy, start-ups with innovative and brilliant ideas shoot up like mushrooms. At the same time, big companies, who have long ago entrenched themselves in our society and economy, are stuck in a blinkered frame of mind: that of costs. It’s no longer just the big companies who should be helping smaller ones with their business plans; the converse is now true as well.

The entrepreneurs of tomorrow think differently and are more aware of the digital changes the future has in store for us. The competences of our workforce may still suffice in our current economy, but not in the digital future. Hyperdigitization, mobility, and the Internet of Things have such a transformative impact that our economy and business models will look completely different twenty years from now. With the skills that are deemed sufficient today, we won’t be able to keep pace with these evolutions.

Of course, learning these skills requires a considerable adaptation too. Today’s education is insufficiently geared to the (digital) challenges and job contents of tomorrow. A law student is still required to learn entire course books by heart, while this information is just a mouse-click away. The lawyer of the future has to know where to find what information, instead of cramming all of that information into his head.

Unfortunately, schools, students, parents, and external organizations are only now starting to communicate more digitally and digital tools are becoming part and parcel of the classroom, and too slowly. It is really time to take action.

In order to keep up with the pace of current digital changes, every sector, every company needs to gather some serious momentum for its own digital evolution. In addition, companies need to learn to look beyond their own sector. Danger and the competition are—again because of the breakneck evolution of digital technologies—lurking around ever more different corners. Thus, for example more and more banks are realizing their clients ask for more than conventional banking services and, little by little, they’re capitalizing on this.

I see a solution in cross-sector thinking and working. To once again use education as an example: why is there still no initiative today that integrates small companies into end-to-end? An offer bringing together Internet use, Smartschool and digital apps, the purchase and insurance of tablets and the use of the Windows computer systems, all presented in an innovative financial model? This would save everyone a lot of effort, and a lot of money.

Systems such as Zoomit and Doccle do exist, but they aren’t sufficiently cross-sector in nature. Systems that go further than simply bringing together similar documents are an important challenge in order to meet the needs and demands of our digitized society

Let’s not succumb to pessimism, however. During the past five years, Europe has managed to realize a great deal at the digital level: the abolition of excessive roaming rates, faster broadband Internet, ever more European citizens with access to that Internet and e-commerce taking on immense proportions are but a few examples.

However, there are still any number of issues for which Europe needs to press home more far-reaching policies. For instance, e-government still hasn’t taken hold and Europe needs to establish a well-defined framework within which member states can operate to progressively become smart cities and smart countries. A second issue is the persisting lack of a clear strategy for  (personal) data security and privacy. The Googles and Amazons of the world are perceived to be abusing encrypted data, whereas young entrepreneurs and innovative companies are able to develop new business models with regard to those data, adapted to the digital spirit of the times.

Today, individuals and communities are the ones giving impetus to fundamental changes for the future. This drive leads to many possibilities and solutions in the world of business, to tackle global challenges such as urbanization, poverty, climate change, the use of natural energy sources and access to education and healthcare. I believe ICT is still the missing link to bring about this transformation and progress.


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