Digital EU Decade: Supercomputers and fast networks for digital sovereignty

The next ten years should become the “digital decade” in the EU, said the President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen (CDU), as the slogan in her first State of the Union address on Wednesday. On Friday, the Brussels government institution presented the first concrete projects for the expansion of supercomputers and fast networks such as 5G in more detail in order to meet this requirement.

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The package includes a draft for a new regulation for the “Joint Undertaking for European High Performance Computing” (GU EuroHPC), which has existed since 2018 and is based in Luxembourg. With the initiative, the Commission wants to maintain and expand “Europe’s leading role” in the fields of supercomputers and quantum information technology. The budget for the EuroHPC program is to grow from a good one to eight billion euros with the help of state and private investments.

According to the plan, the EuroHPC initiative will use the funds to set up three so-called “pre-exa systems” by the beginning of 202117th Can perform arithmetic operations per second and would thus rank among the top five supercomputers in the world. Italy, Finland and Spain are planned as locations. It is also planned to operate five Peta systems with at least 10 to the power of 15 arithmetic operations per second in Bulgaria, Portugal, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, which would be among the top 50 worldwide.

World-class supercomputers can currently perform more than one quadrillion arithmetic operations per second (PetaFlops performance). Current top-of-the-range systems even manage the over 10 targeted17th Operations per second (pre-ExaFlops performance). From 2022, the next generation of ExaFlops with more than a trillion (1018th) Operations per second expected. This performance would be comparable to the combined computing capacity of all cell phones in the entire EU population.

With the new systems, the high-performance computing capacity available at European level is expected to increase eightfold. The Luxembourg headquarters will make the existing European high-performance computing resources accessible to all users across Europe – including public authorities, industrial users and especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – regardless of their location, the Commission promises. The infrastructure could “be used for over 800 scientific, industrial and public sector applications in Europe”.

The project will not only advance research for the academic world, assured Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton. SMEs also need these capacities and the EU wants to provide them to SMEs “just as we supply them with electricity”. This is an important approach to strengthening Europe’s digital sovereignty: “We have to ensure that we can take our fate into our own hands.”

The commission names big data analysis, artificial intelligence, robotics, telemedicine, cloud technology and cybersecurity as the main application areas. In addition, the expanded EuroHPC program will help to improve weather forecasts, urban and rural spatial planning, waste and water management as well as the modeling of seas and ice landscapes, making it easier to implement the European Green Deal. In the healthcare sector and in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, for example, supercomputers carried over the consortium Exscalate4CoV already helped to search for treatment options, modeled and predicted the spread of infections and supported containment measures.

In addition, the Commission has called on the Member States to invest more in broadband networks “with very high capacity” and thus in the basic infrastructure for digitization, and to develop a common concept for the introduction of 5G. Actually, all EU citizens should have the opportunity to use the new generation of cell phones by the end of the year. However, the tenders for some of the frequencies were delayed due to the Corona crisis, Margrethe Vestager, who is responsible for the digital age, has now admitted.

Breton spoke of delays of “around four months” that should now be made up. By the end of March, the member states are to put a common concept in place in the form of a set of best practices for the rapid expansion of fixed and mobile networks with very high capacities. According to the Commission, one of the goals is to reduce costs, remove unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles and provide rapid access to 5G radio frequencies.

By mid-September, the EU countries and Great Britain had only allocated an average of 27.5 percent of the corresponding pioneer frequency bands. Increased cross-border coordination should now contribute to equipping Europe’s main transport routes such as roads, railways and inland waterways “with 5G technology without interruption by 2025”. Beyond the proposed “toolbox”, the recommendation but only on the already existing 52018DC0492: Guideline for broadband expansionwhich provides for the rights to share lines and more efficient dispute resolution mechanisms. The Commission intends to present further proposals, for example on platform regulation and an online ID card, over the next few months.


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