5G is a golden opportunity for Europe to catch up with the US and China, says former Spanish minister Pilar del Castillo

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The data economy is a reality, but Europe missed the first wave of data: that of personal data.

At the dawn of the 21st century, big tech companies appeared in the US that are now known around the world: Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon. These four brands collect hundreds of thousands of personal data of their millions of users every day.

China, meanwhile, also gave birth to technology firms that have focused their business on hardware manufacturing and today Chinese cell phones dominate several markets, including Spain.

What about Europe? Europe cannot afford to miss the second wave of data, that of industrial data. Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton warned this a few weeks ago in a speech.

But is the Old Continent ready?

“Innovation would not be possible without data”: former minister Pilar del Castillo, one of the MEPs leading the regulation of artificial intelligence, calls for its use with “respect for privacy and security”.

“There is obviously an Asian zone led by China, but we cannot forget Japan or South Korea either. But Europe has many assets from which to compete and develop”.

This is the opinion of Pilar del Castillo, former Minister of Education under the government of José María Aznar and one of the Spanish MEPs working hardest on the development of tech regulations and policies. She is the co-chair of a Parliamentary Intergroup on AI and Digitalization in the European Parliament.

In a recent interview with Business Insider Spain, Pilar del Castillo recalled that “Europe has many assets from which to compete and develop”.

“We have to democratically contain the power of technology companies”, by Ursula von der Leyen.

Thus, she mentioned “the competitive capacity of very important sectors” or “the position that the continent has in areas such as software or industrial robotics”. “It is true that a lot of talent, due to the lack of conditions, emigrates to other areas,” she acknowledged. But there are also “magnificent research centers”.

The MEP also recalls the EU’s single market: “440 million people”, something “fundamental” but “not only for e-commerce”: also “for the development of technologies that then allow the development of better quality assistance”.

5G, a key opportunity

Thus, Del Castillo is confident that the arrival of 5G will allow “a degree of connectivity that we had not achieved so far in terms of ubiquity, latency, security or speed”, which is what “will allow us to fully develop artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, blockchain, among others”.

The US and China are already measuring their forces to see who can develop 6G first, a “complex and futuristic” and “science fiction” technology that will not arrive until 2036.

Dependence on other powers has weighed down Europe, which is trying to compensate by implementing a technological regulation that is already a benchmark in several parts of the world, as is the case of the General Data Protection Regulation.

The European Commission has also presented the draft of what will eventually become the new Digital Services and Digital Market regulations. And in the European courts, there are several trenches dug by privacy activists as well as consumer organizations.

This dependency has also been accentuated in times of pandemic, as is the example of the chip shortage that is already wreaking havoc in various sectors. Del Castillo is optimistic about the future. And it is not just 5G that will match this technological escalation.

The coronavirus pandemic makes it clear: Europe must choose between the United States and China.

“In Europe, the infrastructures are highly developed. Spain has good fiber optics. And 5G is an equal development worldwide; the standards of the fifth generation of wireless connectivity technologies have not yet been set on the planet,” she reminds.

Digital infrastructures, a necessary investment

But there is also “a deficit” in another type of infrastructure, digital. For this reason, Del Castillo points to experiences such as GAIA-X, a Franco-German initiative that is already expanding across the continent with the aim of creating a federated European cloud.

“In cloud computing or supercomputing, both China and the US are ahead, but for this purpose, several initiatives have been approved together with the research framework program, with almost 7 billion euros for the purchase of the latest generation of supercomputers,” she points out.

“Although important supercomputers are being developed in Europe,” she adds. “But more investment is needed: the European Union is still dependent on US processors. Three US companies dominate the global market. And the cloud infrastructure is in the hands of five non-European providers.”

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