EU Puts the Pedal to the Metal in Tech with Eight New Research Partnerships

By Peter Bernstein January 02, 2014

Given the recent holiday celebrations, there were a couple of interesting developments you may have missed at the end of last year that are worth circling back on.  The biggest one, and certainly something to keep track of no matter where you do business, was the announcement in late December by the European Commission (EC) of the launch of eight contractual Public Private Partnerships (cPPPs) of strategic importance for European industry as part of the EC’s Horizon 2020 initiative.

The partnerships will leverage more than €6 billion (US $8.2 billion) of investments to be allocated through calls for proposals under Horizon 2020, the new EU program for research and innovation. The EC expects that every public euro (US $1.37) invested will trigger additional investments of between three and 10 euros to develop new technologies, products and services. The goal is to not just enable EU members to catch up with other parts of the world, but to forge ahead. 

Eight PPPs to watch

The eight contractual Public-Private Partnerships (with the links to their factsheets) are:

  • Factories of the Future (FoF), to support the manufacturing industry through the development of sustainable production technologies and systems.
  •  Energy-efficient Buildings (EeB), to increase the competitiveness and energy efficiency of the construction industry.
  • European Green Vehicles Initiative (EGVI), to develop a competitive and resource efficient transport system with significantly less CO2 emissions.
  • Sustainable Process Industry (SPIRE), to make the process industry more resource- and energy-efficient.
  • Photonics, one of the key enabling technologies for our future prosperity and an essential element of many sectors, from energy and health, to everyday products like DVD players and mobile phones.
  •  Robotics, a key driver of industrial competitiveness and essential to address key societal challenges in areas such as demographic change, health and well-being, food production, transport and security.
  • High Performance Computing (HPC), which plays a pivotal role in stimulating Europe’s economic growth and advancing European science.  
  • Advanced 5G networks for the Future Internet (5G), to stimulate the development of network internet infrastructure to ensure advanced ICT services for all sectors and users.

In conjunction with the signing of the contracts setting up the PPCs, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said: "Europe needs industry to innovate to create income and jobs. New technologies and products, such as green cars, energy efficient buildings and cleaner manufacturing processes, are essential to address societal challenges such as climate change, energy and resource efficiency. We want these contractual PPPs to have a substantial impact on the competitiveness of the EU industry, on sustainable economic growth and the creation of new high-skilled jobs in Europe."

Vice President Neelie Kroes, Commissioner responsible for the Digital Agenda, said: "This is a great opportunity for Europe. These PPPs will maintain our global lead in robotics, photonics, high performance computing, telecoms and give us a head start in smart cities, intelligent transport, education, entertainment, media and other promising markets. Combined with a comprehensive industrial strategy, the PPPs will ensure vigorous European leadership and a better future for all."

The one that resonated with me was the 5G nets item. As the fact sheet explains: “The 5G PPP will deliver solutions, architectures, technologies and standards for the ubiquitous next generation communication infrastructures of the coming decade. It will provide such advancements as 1 000 times increase in wireless capacity serving over 7 billion people (while connecting 7 trillion “things”), save 90 percent of energy per service provided, and create a secure, reliable and dependable Internet with zero perceived downtime for services.”

Is it too early to be thinking 5G before most of the world has 4G?

In answer to the question above, in a word, NO! 

Wireless infrastructure product realization for commercial rollouts now are averaging about 10 years per generation. I know from visiting various labs and speaking with researchers that 5G, which is expected to be at least 10 times faster than 4G with extremely high-performance, has been top of mind for several years and that significant progress already has been made on a series of complex technical challenges and requirements that can justify the generational leap forward.

As the fact sheet explains, The 5G Infrastructure PPP is a contractual PPP, which means that, while the private side, under the leadership of industry will set the strategic research and innovation agenda, the responsibility for implementation will remain with the EC. It should be noted just how vast an undertaking this is going to be in terms of not just monetary commitments but human resources as well. 

The private side of the PPP is organized through the 5G Infrastructure Association which represents a broad membership coming from more than 800 different companies and institutions. It will directly benefit from the activities of the existing Net!Works European Technology Platform (ETP), the think tank that was instrumental in creating and structuring the European communications technology community, which itself joined forces recently with ISI (the Integrated Satellite Initiative) to launch a new combined ETP to support the 5G Infrastructure PPP.

With a sluggish economy and high unemployment in most parts of the EU, all of these PPPs as noted by the EC executives, are critically important.  And, while 2020 may seem like it is in the distant future, the future is coming at us faster than ever and it is very clear that collaboration amongst stakeholders (on funding and intellectual property management issues), along with well articulated responsibilities and accountabilities, sound public policies and a good sprinkling of innovation and luck are all going to be key ingredients if the EC has a chance of meeting its rather ambitious goals.   

Edited by Cassandra Tucker
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