There are namely two things about the future that we, in spite of what I just have said, can be sure about.
One thing is that things will not be the same as they are.
Another thing is that things wont be as we think.
Naturally, one could claim that this is not very much but to say about the future but I am of the opinion that it is quite enough in order to understand the art of the development that is characterizing the ITC-sector.
Lets look back in time a couple of decades.
During the 60-ies we talked about automatic data processing. It was something people with white coats dealt with, it was a little bit secret, it was mysterious and had a flavour of big brother. It was not done with in the normal organization, very often not even in the Head Offices but rather in special departments. And the computers were big, the results were distributed someone who was called the postman. And most of the companies that were big in computer business at that time dont exist any more.
But in the 70-ies development took another direction. We got time sharing and decentralized use of the data-processing. It was not only about the aggregated figures and calculations but also about reporting, analyzing and breaking down to the lowest level in the organization. And most of the prominent companies at that time are more or less forgotten today. Mini-computers were the technology leading to the future.
In the 80-ies we got used to word processing and mail. We started to use what was called the comprehensive electronic office, which by the way should save us a lot from using paper. I don’t know if I have heard anyone use the word ”word processor” in the last decades. But I know for sure that we use more paper than ever. The PC became a reality for normal citizens and a metaphor for the new modernity.
In the 90-ies the Internet and the web came at us with full speed. Electronic mail and dynamic web pages changed a lot in life. A global communication put the single individual in the middle of the net. It had a flavour of small brother, not of big brother. Dictatorships and big companies know what can happen. ICT today is very much about information and no longer about data processing, calculation or word processing, even if all this is part of what ICT is. The lap top is the metaphor for the users technology.
In the present decade the real mobility and convergence came through. Mobile phones became small computers and terminals. Small computers became television sets or phones etcetera. The web became so much more advanced. It is today the bearer of business ideas and the opportunity for new ones. In insurance, in banking, in politics, in marketing, sales or research the combination of the Lap top and the net is magic.
An important point to stress is that at all stages of this outlined development, it was unknown and unforeseeable what was going to happen. The ICT is not only characterized by Moore’s law, making the technology twice as fast and half as expensive as the generation before. It is also characterized by constant new technologies and business opportunities replacing old ones. The reason is quite simple. ICT is not a sector of technology in itself, it is a technology integrated in all parts of society and thereby it is linked with the development in all parts of society.
It is crucial for the development in rural areas and for regions that are lagging behind. Rightly used it can dissolve the importance of the room and instead give further importance to environment and local networks.
When society changes the use of ICT changes, and, maybe more important for the discussion today, the use of ICT changes society.
So the question about the future of ICT is not only a question about the development of the relevant technologies. It is a question about how our society develops with the new opportunities of ICT at hand. This will be different in different areas and regions.
Wireless broadband solutions can replace fixed connections as wire, cable and fibre, especially in regions with low density of people.
Mobile broadband solutions are today developing rapidly as broadband information data services, mobile TV and video, music downloading and economic transactions.
We don’t need to decide or choose which one is best.
But in order to reach the overall objective we need nationwide licenses and a common European spectrum policy, it would make it easier, and much faster, to get good economy for the systems and better business opportunities. And it will be essential in order to avoid fragmentation.
We have seen the success of GSM in Europe compared to the corresponding development in the US and we should learn from that. And we should do that quite relaxed.
In the end of the 19th century there was an academic dispute in the US about two different strategies in one of the most dynamic future sectors of society, namely the aviation industry. The conflict was between those who advocated the principle flying lighter than air and those who advocated the principle flying heavier than air. We can all question ourselves how we would have decided and I guess most of us would have decided wrong, at least if we accept the development we have seen since then as the right one. But the two different principles could compete and develop on their own merits and so far we are flying heavier than air.
The same competition between technologies must apply today when we discuss wireless broadband and mobile broadband solutions. Because it is mobility that is the crucial challenge of ICT today. The mobility is decisive for the use of ICT in new areas as well as for individual’s opportunities to be involved in a number of processes. And thats the main challenge of ICT, to be able to distribute information and decision-making to the individuals and thereby mobilize competence, knowledge, and judgment and make each one of us the master of our own world.
The world leading region in this area will be the one best succeeding in achieving this. To fill the net with activities like trade, information, learning, education, research, marketing, production, management, sales, tourism, design and fashion, medication, health and bringing people in remote areas closer to that part of the world that is the most dynamic for the time being and to bring people closer to each other. If so, we will all be in the center of the world, wherever we might be, we will all be able to contribute but we will also have the possibility to physically stay in a place that we love without having to move in order to be in the centre of action.
Europe is most probably the region in the world with the biggest potential to provide opportunities of competition between technologies so that the best ones can be promoted making the ICT-sector exceptionally dynamic. It is both of this tasks we must fulfil.
We must secure that telecom and broadband can develop rapid, with high penetration and creative use. But we must also secure that the market can grow, that the use of ICT grows and that Europeans can continue to be the ones who are in the lead of mobile internet.
In order to achieve this we must be leading in developing common standards. That calls for cooperation and harmonisation. That does also calls for a distribution of frequencies that allows for common standards.
It is when the technologies of information and communication can be used all over Europe we will be successful. Not when we are developing fragmented markets and different standards.
But this does not on the other hand stand against the competition between technologies. Nor the opposite. The competition between technologies will be improved, more efficient and better for Europe when each technology has the best possible opportunities.
And I think, to be fair, that we for a long time will see parallel complementary technologies rather than overlapping. The demand for mobility is of a kind that the different technologies we are talking about today will play different roles meeting different demands.
But I think there is one important step to take. We should secure that the different technologies can be used all over Europe on competitive conditions.
This calls for a European common area for telecom. We should support harmonisation of frequencies for different technologies. We should establish a single market for telecom without national frontiers but operators that can cover the whole of the union. The different national operators can cooperate in order to achieve this.
I must say that I can’t understand why we in one of the most modern and dynamic markets have 25 different single markets, in reality more or less open for competition. We should therefore strive to have one cross border market that enhances Europe’s possibilities to become even more progressive within this fast developing and highly important field. That would be to take a step forward, beyond the discussions on roaming and providing the new technologies the best available opportunities in Europe. That would make a Europe in the lead.