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Letter to G20: The road to recovery will be digital first

By: Börje Ekholm, President& CEO of Ericsson and Erik Ekudden, Group CTO and Head of Technology & Strategy

Following last week’s B20 summit in Riyadh, co-chairs of the inaugural Digitalization Taskforce Börje Ekholm and Erik Ekudden call on G20 policy makers and enterprises to work together to build a strong foundation for tomorrow’s innovation and economic opportunity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of digital transformation and increased the demand for smart and reliable communications solutions across both consumer markets and emerging industrial markets. These sudden, dramatic changes in our behavior have put an enormous amount of strain on our networks, yet they continue to remain highly resilient to the ongoing shifts.

The importance of continued digitalization as a means for ensuring long-term economic competition cannot be understated, particularly as the world prepares to embrace new 5Gsystems and the nature of competition changes. It is clear that our national economies and enterprises will not move forward by returning to the pre-pandemic status quo.

Instead, the way forward will be built on infrastructure, innovation and inclusion: strong digital infrastructures as a basis for fast enablement, open innovation frameworks through multi-stakeholder governance, and a clear agenda to ensure fair and equal access to new opportunities created by digitalization.

Transforming for inclusive growth

At last week’s B20 summit in Riyadh, a precursor to this month’s G20 summit, we have had the pleasure to co-chair the first ever Digitalization Taskforce, together with the Chair Nasser Al Nasser, Deputy Chair Abdullah Al-Kanhal and over a hundred representatives from the business community.

This week, the taskforce formally presented its Digitalization Policy Paper 2020. This contains our four digitalization policy recommendations, and a number of subsequent policy actions, which we also believe can serve as a bedrock for the G20’s long-term developmental goals of empowering people, safeguarding the planet and positively shaping new frontiers

The importance of digital infrastructure and cyber security resilience

In today’s cyber-physical revolution, the pace of transformation is much faster than in previous technological revolutions. According to our latest mobility report, we forecast that there will be close to 2.8billion 5G subscriptions worldwide, as well as 24.9 billion Internet of Things(IoT) connections already by 2025.

The G20 must recognize the central role of digital infrastructure in long-term economic growth, as well as the value it brings to our societies. Policy makers and communications service providers should work together to facilitate the necessary infrastructural investments and achieve common objectives without damaging market incentives.

To drive recovery of our national economies, many markets are already announcing significant investments in digital infrastructures. However, to unlock these investments, it’s critical that markets also remove blockers such as access to spectrum and radio sites.

Our first recommendation calls for a global roadmap to enable the upgrade and expansion of digital infrastructure; to create opportunities both in the short term, supporting a multitude of innovative applications; and in the long term, supporting digitalization of enterprises, industries and society at large. This will support the small- to medium size enterprise segment which currently employs two-thirds of the world’s workforce.

The move to digital infrastructures will also heighten the demand for robust, resilient and joint cyber strategies against cyber-attacks targeting businesses, governments and citizens. Policy makers and enterprises within the G20 must work together to promote minimum common international cyber security standards, as well as support educational platforms and training curriculum across the cyber security domain.

Read more about 5G and networks as a platform for innovation. Learn more about our approach to telecom security.

Artificial intelligence

In coming years, the pervasiveness of AI will continue to expand across both enterprise and society at large. For example, traffic in future networks will be generated not only by human communication but also by connected, intelligent machines that are embedded with AI and supported by AI-to-AI communication.

It is imperative that we encourage the principles of responsible and trustworthy AI, bringing trustworthy automated protection and risk management. It is our recommendation that the G20create a favorable and trust-inducing regulatory environment for the usage of AI and data.

Read more about AI and automation.

Laying the foundation for smart cities

We see an increase in urbanization and a rise in the number of megacities. For example, the UN predicts that there will be 43 megacities in the world by 2030. Smart cities, underpinned by smart infrastructure across energy, traffic and transport, water and waste, social and buildings, provide a way to address the increased density and demand in new megacities. G20 policy makers and enterprises should work towards installing key building blocks for smart cities to succeed, increasing societal acceptance of smart cities and also supporting local authorities in the rollout of smart city elements.

Read more about the Internet of Things (IoT) and Smart Cities.

Digital inclusion and growing digital skills

Slow or uneven adoption of digital technologies could potentially lead to an increase in inequalities between countries, locations, genders, socioeconomic status and age. Given that, by 2030, we forecast that two-thirds of the world’s workforces will depend on 5Gconnectivity, it is critical that we work towards closing the digital skills divide and promote an agenda which ensures digital inclusion.

Our fourth recommendation toG20 policy makers and enterprises is to facilitate the growth of digital skills and accelerate digital inclusion, for example by supporting educational programs for all, fostering access to affordable technology, promoting partnerships to create safe digital environments, and accelerating digitization of government services.

Read more about our digital lab program to improve digital learning in schools.

Next steps

Together with our fellow co-chairs, we welcome the commitment of G20 leaders to “do whatever it takes and use all available policy tools to minimize the economic and social damage from the pandemic, restore global growth, maintain market stability, and strengthen resilience”.

We now look forward to the continued commitments and actions of G20 policy makers and enterprises, both at this month’s summit and in the coming months, to facilitate an inclusive and sustainable digital transformation for the collective benefit of enterprise and wider society.

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