In the words of the great German romantic poet Hölderlin: “where the danger is, also grows the saving power.”
The COVID-19 crisis has meant a great disruption in public health, economic and social terms and also for its synchronous impact worldwide. This is a disruption such as we have not seen in the past 100 years, precisely because of its global scope, not even during wartime. At the same time though, as a society, digitalisation and connectivity have provided the antidote that has mitigated the impact of this crisis.
It is still too early to draw conclusions about what we will have learned and what will be left when we come out of this crisis. A certainly inescapable fact is the acceleration of digitalisation in our daily lives.
We do not know how long it would have taken under normal conditions to adopt work and social relationship tools such as the many videoconferencing and cooperative working applications. However, they have become a part of our world and have revealed themselves as a critical element that has allowed a part of the economy to maintain acceptable levels of activity, with all that this implies in terms of mitigating the economic and social impact.
What we do know for certain is that we will not successfully overcome this crisis if we do not make a determined commitment to overcome one of the great burdens of our economy: lower productivity compared to our most direct competitors.
We must commit to improving productivity as the determining factor for the quantum leap that the European economy has to make.
Furthermore, it is the key factor for long-term competitive sustainability. Also the size –via consolidation and internationalisation– of our business fabric. There is a clear correlation between size and productivity.
Yet we have to make an even more decisive commitment to the digital transition of the European economy and society.
Digitalisation brings greater productivity; an improvement in the efficiency of all processes –with those derived in terms of sustainability and climate change–; new business models are emerging that will demand new professional profiles and offer new opportunities; Industry 4.0 will definitively emerge supported by the emergence of the 5G ecosystem.
To a large extent we are facing the urgency but also the great opportunity to re-imagine the European economy: managing the transition to a low-carbon economy; supporting sectors that are more knowledge-intensive and therefore have greater added value; and investing in the infrastructure needed to ensure an attractive environment for investment and innovation.
Innovation and digitalisation demand connectivity infrastructures that will be both physical and virtual. This process of re-imagining and transitioning the economic model in Europe will involve the emergence of the 5G ecosystem.
5G will allow a data flow 10 times faster than that provided by 4G; it will cut response times by a factor of 10 and will multiply the density of connections by 10 due to the billions of connected objects and devices.
What is at stake in the roll-out of new technology goes beyond these numbers. It is a disruption that allows us to enter the digital age once and for all. It will give rise to new economic models, businesses and services, both for companies and citizens, and will create professions that we can barely imagine today. In health, education, mobility, public services, it will overcome physical and geographical limitations.
Industrial and service competitiveness in Europe as a whole will depend upon it. We are facing a strategic challenge that is a reflection of the competition for digital leadership within the European Union, and the EU in relation to other large economic regions.
5G will necessarily be industrial. We must follow in the wake of countries like Germany, France or the Netherlands by fostering the development of private 5G networks in industrial environments. They must provide car plants, chemical production centres and industrial estates with the necessary benefits to implement applications and processes the roll-out of which will be possible only on the basis of an infrastructure designed for 5G.
5G technology is here and that is good news. It will be one of the catalysts for the “next generation EU” Recovery Plan in Europe, with programmes revolving around the axes of the digital and ecological transition. Both will advance hand in hand, and we must be able to co-lead them.
We cannot fail to see that the key to this process of re-imagining will lie in an approach of trust and cooperation between the public and private sectors. It is not one or the other, but one with the other. Our country has a dense network of universities, technology and innovation centres, which can only advance if led by companies that specifically make use of the entrepreneurial spirit brewing there. Therefore, it depends on us.
CEO at Cellnex