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Europe’s network players set agenda for future communications

Hundreds of European companies and research institutes have come together to deliver Europe’s Strategic Research Agenda for mobile communications.

Europe’s Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) for future mobile communications has galvanised the continent’s telecom companies and research institutes into action and they are now working through the eMobility Technology Platform to deliver on the priorities.

“Europe is strong in communications, and very strong globally in mobile technologies. The eMobility Technology Platform and its Strategic Research Agenda is all about maintaining Europe’s competitiveness,” explains Dr Fiona Williams, chair of the eMobility Technology Platform and coordinator of the eMobility Specific Support Action.

“Key new areas of the SRA for mobile communications are the future internet and multidisciplinary research, in addition to the established research areas of radio, networks, services and applications,” she adds.

Multidisciplinary research means that mobile communications of the future cannot be formulated by telecoms experts talking about technology, but must take into account of, and build links to, stakeholders in the major application areas.

“Right now, we are focusing on a multidisciplinary approach to application development in the health, transport and automotive sectors,” says Williams, “These are all areas where mobile technologies can respond to current and emerging needs, like logistics for delivery of goods or health monitoring for Europe’s ageing population.”

The future internet

The ‘Future Internet’ thrust of the research agenda is even more compelling. “Members have come together to take a ‘clean slate’ look at the internet, starting from scratch to include all the elements that current and emerging applications require,” Williams notes.

The priorities established by the agenda have been enormously influential “The Agenda was well received, and it has been influential at European level and even internationally. The Chinese asked for permission to print it in their language,” notes Williams.

But above all, the SRA secured the active participation of hundreds of companies. “The eMobility Specific Support Action (SSA) was set up to provide coordination and administration for the eMobility Technology Platform. When we started out, we had 160 companies and research institutes signed up as members of the eMobility Technology Platform,” notes Williams.

"By the time the Sixth Framework Programme-funded SSA ended [two years later], there were 500 members,” Williams reveals. One hundred were large corporations, there were about 200 SMEs, and 200 research institutes – mainly universities.

SMEs take part

More importantly, many of the members became actively involved in new projects funded by the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, including a lot of SMEs. In the first call for project proposals, focusing on the ‘Network of the Future’, 16% of the project participants in successful proposals were SMEs. It is a remarkable level of SME participation, in comparison to previous programmes, and realises a key policy goal of the European Commission.

The EU-funded eMobility achieved these results by building a community around the Technology Platform and the development of the Strategic Research Agenda. “The Platform was unique because it was completely open and transparent; all the positions on the steering committee were democratically elected,” explains Williams.

The Support Action also prompted greater participation through a gruelling publication programme that saw four versions of the Strategic Research Agenda published in just two years.

“We worked very hard to produce and then revise the document, so that it represented the best consensus of Europe’s research priorities.” All that work galvanised activity around the agenda and the Technology Platform.

Building community around wikis

The SSA also developed wikis around key areas of focus. A wiki is an internet accessible database that can be updated by users, like Wikipedia. In the eMobility SSA, one wiki was used to allow companies and research institutes to introduce themselves and list their areas of interest, another focused on the Strategic Research Agenda.

The eMobility SSA also generated action through email lists, regular voice conferences, networking opportunities at conferences, workshops and seminars, and presentations at regionally and nationally organised events in many European countries, including new EU Member States.

The result of all that work is a highly detailed Research Agenda that has received the buy-in of a very large number of European stakeholders at every level. The eMobility SSA now continues its work as a new project, this time a Coordination Action. It will continue to generate activity around the eMobility Technology Platform and the Agenda, which is now in version 6 following continuous revision.

And it means that the European telecommunications sector will continue mobilising to maintain the continent’s international leadership in communications.

Christian Nielsen | alfa
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