On Tuesday, November 17, GIGAEurope will launch with a special web event. Robert Briel talks to managing director Irina Varlan.
Welcome to Brussels, Irina, can you tell us a bit about your background?
Thank you, Robert! I am very excited about this role with GIGAEurope!
A few words about myself: I am an experienced corporate executive who has worked in multinational companies for more than 20 years and most of them were spent within one of the most dynamic industry sectors – telecoms.
Prior to joining GIGAEurope, I was General Counsel, Public Policy and Regulatory Director of UPC Romania, Liberty Global. Before that role, I held a number of senior management positions in leading international telecommunications companies, including DHT Television, Telekom Romania and the American company Metromedia International. I am also an attorney-at-law, member of the Bucharest Bar, having worked both in-house, leading legal teams, as well as within the private legal practice at the associated law firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers Romania.
GIGAEurope is the reincarnation of Cable Europe, what is the background to the change?
GIGAEurope brings together private operators who build, operate and invest in the gigabit communications networks that enable Europe’s digital connectivity. Its members serve around 40 million fixed broadband customers and 130 million mobile customers spanning across Europe.
Its founding members include most of the former Cable Europe membership dedicated to providing customers with reliable and secure gigabit-speed end-to-end connectivity.
Although built on the foundation of Cable Europe, GIGAEurope has a new set-up, an enlarged scope and a different approach. The services offered by Cable Europe’s members have become more and more convergent, with the giga-speed connectivity being now provided through a mix of technologies. Therefore, the transition to GIGAEurope came naturally. Cable Europe laid the foundation of GIGAEurope.
What is the vision of GIGAEurope?
Our purpose is to become a trusted and strong voice of the gigabit connectivity industry, a true partner to policymakers. GIGAEurope is an industry association representing private operators who build, operate and invest in gigabit communications networks that enable Europe’s digital connectivity. GIGAEurope is also open to associate members from the connectivity and content sectors, in addition to industries and organisations from the wider digital economy. GIGAEurope members serve around 40 million fixed broadband customers and 130 million mobile customers across Europe.
GIGAEurope promotes technology neutrality, as our members use a variety of fixed and mobile technologies to connect citizens, governments and businesses in Europe.
We support a strong and harmonised European Digital Single Market, with a clear focus on enabling regulatory and market conditions that allow for sustainable investment and innovation in Gigabit infrastructure. We are developing the association to become an open home of ideas, to foster meaningful exchanges and engagements with regulators, industry partners in the digital ecosystem and civil society. Together, we can create a better understanding of what is needed to build a strong European gigabit society. Together we will be more successful in investing and innovating in a digital, green and resilient Europe.
What are the challenges ahead?
GIGAEurope members continue to do their part and invest in the evolution of gigabit infrastructure. It is a cornerstone of Europe’s technology leadership and digital competitiveness ambitions. Gigabit connections and seamless fixed/mobile connectivity solutions are ready to power European Cloud, IoT and AI-based applications at scale.
The connectivity sector also plays a significant role in driving Europe’s green transition. As part of the overall Green Deal climate neutrality objective for the EU, a sector-specific target of zero carbon emission by 2030 has been set for telecommunications networks and data centres. Gigabit connections facilitate the use of smart technologies for sustainable business operations, remote working, distance learning or digital health.
On the road towards an inclusive Gigabit Society, reaching the EU’s connectivity goals is a precondition. Consolidation is to be encouraged to foster strong European telco competitors and create the internal market for telecom services.
The gigabit objectives will be achieved by a mix of fixed and wireless technologies and by a combination of private and public investment. 20% of the EU Recovery Fund will be allocated to investments in digital. We support the Commission’s initiative of fostering national recovery plans that balance efficient public spending with creating conditions best suited for private investment by ways of creating a common toolbox around best practices. Immediate priorities for accelerating the gigabit ambitions relate to reduction of the cost of deploying very high capacity networks and to ensuring investment-friendly 5G spectrum licensing approaches.
The current Covid-19 crisis makes interconnectivity even more important, can you comment on that?
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Europe in March, it was clearer than ever how connectivity is underpinning everyday life, particularly in times of lock-down. Because of the uptake in home working, online learning, remote healthcare services and digital public services, network occupancy surged. The providers of broadband networks were prepared to manage these unprecedented spikes in internet traffic. Innovation competition between infrastructure providers led to investment in network upgrades year-on-year in terms of higher speeds, lower latency and more bandwidth – well ahead of the crisis.
We can take proud in the relentless efforts and numerous initiatives taken by our industry to keep everybody connected. Data, voice and text caps were temporarily increased or even replaced with unlimited offerings for mobile subscribers; complimentary speed upgrades were introduced, lifting entire subscriber bases to +100 Mbps – just to name a few.
What are the initiatives of GIGAEurope? Tell us a bit about the launch activities.
The GIGAEurope Launch Event will be a web-based experience, serving two purposes: the launch of GIGAEurope and an open discussion regarding Europe’s way forward after the pandemic. A panel will exchange ideas on what is needed to further increase the rollout of gigabit networks and the uptake of secure and reliable digital services. It will consider what it will take to make the shift to a gigabit society economically viable, green and inclusive, as well as ask what we can learn from the impact of COVID-19.
The programme will feature representatives from the European Parliament and the European Commission: MEP Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, Vice-Chair of the Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence in a Digital Age, Member of ITRE and Anthony Whelan, Digital Policy Adviser, Cabinet of President von der Leyen, European Commission, have been confirmed. The event will also feature executives from the connectivity industry, including Jeroen Hoencamp, CEO VodafoneZiggo, John Porter, CEO Telenet, Joakim Reiter, Group External Affairs Director of Vodafone Group and Manuel Kohnstamm, Senior Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer of Liberty Global.
Anything to add?
We embrace the opportunity before us to shape Europe’s Digital Decade together with all stakeholders within the digital ecosystem. We look forward to continuing our contribution to a policy framework that keeps investment incentives, maintains the pace of innovation, and accelerates gigabit availability to European homes, businesses and governments.