Oulu, Finland -- The 24th Global Forum, an annual policy and strategy conference for technology leaders, was held this week in Oulu, a Nordic university town and research city about 100 miles from the Arctic Circle.
Opened by Juha Sipilä, Finland’s current prime minister and a telecommunications engineer by training, the conference theme was “Digitalization: From Disruption to Sustainability.”
Global Forum often forecasts world trends in the information and communication industries. Delegates came by invitation-only from 36 countries and multiple international organizations, with representatives also from vendors, service providers, academia and government agencies.
Host city Oulu has 250,000 residents, including 40,000 students. Of its nearly 60,000-person workforce, a third of them are in information and communication technology (ICT), Cleantech, and Life Sciences.
Oulu is one of the youngest cities in Europe, with a median age of 36.6 years. It boasts 600 kilometers of bike paths, lighted and maintained year round, including winter.
Global Forum used its Finland setting to highlight the booming Arctic frontier, which some speakers called “the new gold rush.” Finland has the most population in the Arctic region of the eight countries of the Arctic Council (USA, Canada, Denmark representing Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia).
Overall, the Nordic area constitutes the 10th biggest economy in the world, with a GDP of 1400 billion euros ($1,570 billion). Estimates of combined investment plans rise to about 200 billion euros ($224 billion) by 2025.
Global Forum’s Arctic Issues panel outlined the problem for ICT developers: “Securing of communication and data transmission, without zero signal zones, on sea, on seabed, underground and in faraway locations.”
Keynote speaker Suvi Lindén highlighted global progress in mobile access and broadband planning. Lindén was Finland’s Communications Minister when in 2010 it became the first nation in the world to make broadband access a legal right.
Lindén said in 2005, there were 2 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide. In 2015, there are 7 billion, but only 40% have broadband capability; most are 2G connections.
In 2005, only 17 countries had a national broadband plan. In 2015 an impressive 148 countries have a national broadband plan. Lindén sees this as encouraging, because where there is a plan, some action can follow.
However, progress is being held back in certain countries, she said, because of high taxes on telecommunications services—in some nations these are among the few places tax revenue can be collected effectively. While their national budgets benefit, the burden on services drags technological deployment and innovation.
Jørgen Abild Andersen, Chairman of the OECD Committee on Digital Economy Policy, said what counts in digitalization is broadband access at 100Mbps per person, and full mobile coverage for the geographic populations involved.
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