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Brussels can become the digital heart of Europe

Saskia Van Uffelen, CEO Ericsson Belux
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Saskia Van Uffelen

It is important that Brussels is already preparing for the digital opportunities of tomorrow. Brussels is rich in start-ups with a focus on smart cities. This became clear during the third edition of the Brussels Digital Week in October. However, if these digital initiatives are to be taken into account in the long term, an efficient digital policy, with important roles for education and politics, is a must.

Today, a 4G network is still the norm. That speed is sufficient to easily download photos and videos of several megabytes, but if we want to share VR videos with each other soon, we need a faster network. Behind the scenes, a lightning-fast 5G network has been in operation for many years. It will be the basis for the Internet of Things, a huge network that will connect billions of devices: computers and smartphones, but also innovative applications such as smart video cameras, self-driving cars, smart refrigerators, VR glasses, to name but a few. For the time being things are still at the experimental stage, but analysts expect that the first commercial 5G phone will probably be filling the shelves in early 2020.

The Brussels-Capital Region must prepare itself well for the digital opportunities of tomorrow. Universities provide a rewarding platform for start-ups and other companies to develop and test new applications. Ericsson rolled out a 5G network on the Corda Campus in Hasselt on 1 January, and although Brussels is also testing new technologies with its Innovation Centre, the digital entrepreneurship of our capital city should be more comprehensively, specifically and quickly expressed.

If Belgium wants to play a key role in the field of information technology, we need to turn Brussels into a digital theatre where universities, companies and start-ups are influential co-producers. With its strategic location at the centre of Europe, Brussels has every potential to take control of the digital agenda, bringing together technologies, digital competences and economic objectives.

An effective approach starts with the people who use the tools. Only four out of ten employees today have the right digital skills. Our children will have strong digital skills to cope with the new complex economy. Investing in further training and in the digital development of education is therefore an important agenda item. An initiative such as BeCentral, a digital hub at Brussels Central Station where people of all ages can follow digital labs, has understood the message well. In order to ensure that the workforce is optimally prepared for the upcoming challenges, more meeting rooms and workplaces such as these are welcome.

The political field also plays an important role. By providing an infrastructure that will allow companies to surf flawlessly on that wave of innovation. After all, there really are some infrastructural challenges in terms of 5G. At the moment, there is no European infrastructure that co-manages the network in Belgium. In this, we can pattern ourselves on a country like France, where part of the network must be of European origin. In this way they ensure that their wealth of (personal) data also stays with them.

Brussels can become the central heart of the digital economy. A 5G Flagship of Europe, as it were, which propagates European values and acts as an expert in the various fields of digitisation: entrepreneurship, innovation and digital education. With a high-performance data security landscape for personal and business information, based on the long-term vision that data will support our new economy.

The coming legislature (2019-2024) promises to bring many new digital ‘wow’ moments to the experience of citizens: self-driving cars, a ‘more real than real’ perception of competitions, meetings and other events thanks to 3D holograms, street lighting that goes out when there is no one on the street, houses in which you don’t have to operate anything manually anymore. The possibilities for our country, and more specifically for the Brussels-Capital Region, are endless and within reach. Let us not hesitate any longer and write out the scenario today.