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National cooperation to future-proof Dutch network infrastructure

More national cooperation is needed from the Dutch sectors and network industry for the development and deployment of communication networks. This is the opinion of a group of telecom companies, technical universities, and knowledge institutions that is calling for a public-private consortium to be formed for research and development of the next generation of communication networks. This call, together with a plan of action, is described in the position paper 'Communication Networks for and by the Netherlands', which was handed over to Jeannine Peek, figurehead of Top Sector ICT during the ECP Annual Festival. Researchers Geert Heijenk and Hans van den Berg are involved on behalf of the University of Twente.

Development of future networks calls for new balance

The reason for the call is that the development of the latest generation of network technology, also known as Future Network Services (FNS), requires a different approach than previous generations. In addition to economic considerations, public concerns such as reliability, sovereignty and sustainability play a much more prominent role. ‘Collaboration of organisations from the energy, mobility, industry and agricultural sectors with universities, knowledge institutes, ICT and network industries and the government will not only secure the economic importance of our network infrastructure,  it will also ensure us retaining our leading international position in the future,’ says Jeannine Peek.

Due to the direct dependence of the entire Dutch society on functioning networks, it is essential that future networks are reliable, available and secure. Furthermore, due to geopolitical developments in digitisation, the question of where the ultimate power and control over data, networks and network equipment – also known as digital sovereignty – lies, has become an important aspect. Previously, governments in western countries supported the development of 5G through research projects, but then left it mainly to the market. This will be different for the upcoming development of, for example, 6G. More explicitly, it will involve the ability of the Netherlands and the EU to safeguard its public interests in the digital world on the basis of their own insights and choices. In addition, the expected influence of networks and digitisation on the sustainability of sectors and society as a whole is important. For example, the deployment of a more powerful network infrastructure must not lead to an increase in energy consumption, which in turn would annihilate the sustainability of the above-mentioned sectors.

According to Paul Wijngaard, Sector Manager Telecom at TNO, it is essential to join forces: ‘The Netherlands already has high-quality digital networks and a high-quality infrastructure, and it is vital to expand this solid position in the future. The development of these digital networks can bring enormous benefits to Dutch sectors, ’such as an improved traffic flow and greatly reduced emissions due to the use of automated driving cars, sustainable precision agriculture and real-time control of local energy generation and storage.

Consortium working together with the Dutch government

The development of these network technologies is a challenge to the system that involves no distinct owners of the problem and a huge number of stakeholders. This makes co-operation in consortia necessary to secure the future position of the Netherlands. The group wants to work together with a consortium of organisations coming from the energy, agriculture, healthcare, education, mobility and industry sectors, universities, knowledge institutes, ICT and network industries and government sectors and will focus on the following goals:

  • to accelerate economic growth in sectors through digitisation and innovation in communication networks;
  • to accelerate innovation in networks itself;
  • to create economic value by capitalising on specific Dutch strengths in network technology;
  • to guarantee active accumulation of knowledge and experience concerning digital sovereignty and reliability.

There are several points for which market parties cannot provide for themselves and need help of the government. These include: setting up and facilitating large-scale precompetitive trials in which experiments are done with sector applications across multiple (competitive) organisations; co-ordinating field labs; organising knowledge about technical basics; promoting and safeguarding public concerns such as digital sovereignty, sustainability and reliability, and broadening the Dutch knowledge base by ensuring an increase in the number of qualified people.

Core partners of Future Network Services (FNS)

This paper and call have been formulated by KPN, T-Mobile, VodafoneZiggo, TNO, TU Delft, TU Eindhoven and the University of Twente. The paper was written with input from knowledge partner Agentschap Telecom and contributions from the energy, mobility, industry and agriculture sectors. This initiative is supported by Team Dutch Digital Delta (Top Sector ICT).

J.C. Vreeman (Jochem)
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