Connectivity and supercomputing, proposals for (possible) European leadership

Article
Arianna Fantesini
Connettività
Credit: pixabay

Boosting fast network connectivity, developing a joint approach for the deployment of 5G and introducing a new common European high-performance computing regulation. These are the new proposals announced by Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager and Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton to develop Ursula von der Leyen Commission’s digital policies. With the objective, of course, to create “a Europe ready for the digital age”.

The presentation of these initiatives is linked to the framework outlined by von der Leyen during her first speech on the State of the Union. Essentially, the direction of the executive was confirmed, and the priorities to shape and support the digital transformation of European society and economy were defined.

A NEW COMMON REGULATION FOR EUROPEAN HIGH-PERFORMANCE COMPUTING

The presentation of a new regulation for the EuroHPC (High-Performance Computing) Joint Undertaking aims to update and advance the first project of 2018 to allow the Union to maintain a leading position in the technological race towards the next supercomputing frontier.

Our objective is to rapidly reach the next standard of computing with exascale computers“, declared Commissioner Breton, continuing to say: “but also and foremost to already integrate quantum accelerators to develop hybrid machines and position Europe very early on this disruptive technology“.

The Commission’s proposal emphasises that the long-term objectives will remain essentially those already envisaged. Among others, the deployment and operation of a world-class supercomputing and data infrastructure, and the development and promotion of an excellent European high-performance computing ecosystem, highly competitive worldwide. The novelty lies in the focus on expanding to new High-Performance Computing approaches based on quantum technologies in order to move towards and enter the exascale era around 2023-2025.

In addition, a specific activity has also been introduced to provide a Europe-wide interoperability system for access to high performance, quantum and data computing resources.

The benefits of the development of this supercomputing infrastructure are reflected in various policies supported by the Commission and in different sectors, such as the scientific, industrial and public sectors. In particular, Vice President Vestager stated that “in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, supercomputers are already assisting in the search of therapies, recognising and forecasting the infection spread, or supporting decision-making on containment measures“, but, at the same time, they “are also a major asset in detecting patterns of ecosystems, helping us to mitigate changes in climate, and to work on solutions to avoid disasters and fight climate change“.

The new initiative introduces some changes not only aimed at reflecting the Commission’s priorities, but also at adapting the regulation to the new Multiannual Financial Framework, so as to allow access to funding. The new budget is currently under negotiation and will be supported, specifically, by Horizon Europe, Digital Europe and the Connecting Europe Facility programmes.

A RECOMMENDATION TO PROMOTE CONNECTIVITY

Closely linked to the first proposal, the Commission, through a Recommendation, invited Member States to cooperate in developing a toolbox of best practices for the timely rollout of very high-capacity fixed and mobile networks, including 5G.

These measures will lead to establishing stronger cross-border coordination for radio spectrum assignments, to provide timely access to the 5G spectrum and, finally, to reduce the cost and increase the speed of broadband deployment. The latter objective, which is the subject of Directive 2014/61/EU, is mentioned by the Commission due to the non-application of some optional measures by Member States. The Recommendation therefore invites Member States to agree and share best practices within this Directive in order to support greater simplification and transparency of authorisation procedures, increase transparency, extend access rights of network operators and improve the efficiency of dispute resolution.

The document underlines how electronic communication networks have been indispensable in the response to the Covid-19 crisis, especially those with very high capacity. But that’s not all. They are also playing a fundamental role in the economic recovery of Europe. Consequently, it is essential to develop a common EU approach to encourage the timely development of very high capacity networks, including optical fibre and next generation wireless networks.

The reason for the Commission’s push on this front is linked to the concern that the slowdown in investments may jeopardise both the digital and green transformation in several strategic sectors and growth and employment for European economic recovery.

We have seen the current crisis highlight the importance of access to very high-speed internet for businesses, public services and citizens, but also to accelerate the pace towards 5G,” said Vice-President Vestager. Commissioner Breton also added in the hope that “greater connectivity will help Europe building its resilience and achieve its technological autonomy“.