Europe's innovation strength: Standards

Don Rosenberg explains why the key to Europe's technology sovereignty in the age of 5G is open standardisation.
Qualcomm Incorporated

By Don Rosenberg

Don Roseberg is executive Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of Qualcomm Incorporated.

13 Jul 2020

It started in Europe over three decades ago. It was nurtured and cultivated by the EU, and now it’s in European hands to preserve.

Standardisation of mobile communications has given our world unlimited access to information and the means to continue working and interacting with family and friends through a global pandemic, making wireless technology even more integral to our lives.

How prescient standardisation’s creators were to have recognised the necessity of defining common sets of principles for engineers and inventors as they defined and developed the technological underpinnings of global interconnectivity.

And then, led by the European Technological Standards Institute, evolving it into a worldwide network of related bodies representing hundreds of companies and thousands of engineers in working groups and committees that successfully created four generations of mobile communications, with the fifth, 5G, just starting to be deployed.

How visionary to have motivated a host of unrelated companies to spend billions on R&D and contribute their breakthroughs to standards that would become foundations on which so many others build products, services and industries.

Who would have believed such complex worldwide cooperation could take hold and survive more than 35 years? Indeed, not just survive, but thrive, transforming the way we work, study, play and engage.

Now, we are on the verge of another transformative moment. We will move from being a wireless world resembling an infinite number of connecting threads to a 5G tapestry of interwoven connections. This next evolutionary change will produce new capabilities with societal benefits not yet imagined and has the potential to reset and enhance existing industrial dynamics in such areas as logistical practices, transforming European factory operations so that they are more competitive and capable of bringing manufacturing jobs back to Europe.

Why, then, is there such consternation about “fixing” the wireless standards system? Amid so much evidence of success and none of failure, why do some try to justify weakening the standardisation process by saying it is broken?

A recent report about standardisation and EU competitiveness from European officials, academics and industry leaders, “Calling the Shots,” says support for open standardisation is crucial amid fears that other regions could leave Europe behind. Standardisation advances European ambitions for technology sovereignty in two ways: The merits-based approach allows European invention companies to participate in technology development on an equal footing with larger Asian and American rivals; and standardised technology like 5G, accessible to all, promotes competition, in contrast to proprietary technology controlled by a single company.

This is also why some commercial interests, thinking only of short-term profits, seek to undermine standardisation, especially by weakening intellectual property rules that incentivise companies to contribute their strongest innovations.

We cannot let that happen. Standardisation of mobile communications is, as the above report makes clear, an “essential tool” of economic and industrial strategy that Europe must support to spur growth and competitiveness.


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