In a world of video calls and Zoom meetings, we value the internet more than ever. As we look to the future of how our online world will develop, Jo Caruana chats to some of the experts, including Tech.mt’s CEO Dana Farrugia, who are keeping Malta connected.
TECH.MT IS A GREAT NURTURER OF THE TECH SECTOR IN MALTA. IN WHICH WAYS DOES TECH.MT CONTRIBUTE TO ESTABLISHING MALTA AS A LEADING TECH HUB?
Tech.mt was established by the Government of Malta and the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry as a public-private partnership and has proven to be a strategic assistive partner to the tech sector during the past months.
Tech.mt’s mission revolves around the fundamental principles of enhancing Malta’s attractiveness for foreign direct investment, as well as facilitating international business development and innovation to the local industry.
Assisting Technology companies to innovate and grow internationally lies at the heart of what we do. For those with international ambitions, Tech.mt will be acting as the link to facilitate connections with international organisations. Our team of professionals will ensure superior client relationship management through personalised advisory services and will guide businesses to understand the first steps of internationalisation, whilst recommending the best existing market opportunities and reducing the challenges involved in moving and establishing local contacts.
Tech.mt’s mandate is to seek sectorial growth and assist the technology ecosystem in establishing itself as a leading contributor to our GDP. As such, Tech.mt shall be instrumental in taking the Technology industry to the next level, as it will seek to make the world notice the huge potential the technology sector in Malta has to offer.
CORE DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES ARE EVOLVING AND CONVERGING RAPIDLY, FUELLED BY BROAD TERRITORIAL CONNECTIVITY AND REAL-TIME, REAL-WORLD DATA. DO YOU THINK WE MAY BE ON THE CUSP OF A REAL THIRD INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION?
COVID-19 has sparked digital transformation at a speed that companies have never experienced before. The effects have been a tale of two cities. Some businesses have been really busy, riding a wave of innovation, creativity and enthusiasm. For many, lockdown has lead them to break down barriers, most notably between start-ups and big businesses, and driven people of all ages online.
The pandemic crisis has generated a digital revolution amongst businesses. This digital lifeline has not only been a saviour for many businesses, but it has given the tech sector a huge boost, placing it at the heart and soul of powering the COVID-19 recovery.
The mastery and application of emerging technologies will be the key ingredients of economic and industrial competitiveness. Businesses who do not invest in digital technologies may just be cut off from global markets, with severe consequences for the less connected and agile. In addition to this, many businesses will eventually be faced with the challenge of big data management. If they do not master it, their competitive position will diminish.
At the same time, a global digital divide may result between developing and developed countries from uneven infrastructure coverage, blocking certain regions out of having full access to the digital society. This could be very concerning, since it is anticipated that economic and social power will increasingly depend on high performance integrated networks.
Notwithstanding the undeniable social impact from the development of emerging technologies, technological leaps forward might possibly mark the launch of a third industrial revolution. To manage these changes, policies will have to be adapted to enable businesses to tackle a more complex and dynamic environment, and to mitigate the possible implications on the employment of the unskilled.
WHAT TWO TECHNOLOGICAL BREAKTHROUGHS DO YOU THINK ARE SET TO DEFINE THE 2020s?
Automation will be a key building block of digital transformation. With intelligent automation technologies, businesses are changing their procedures whilst accomplishing higher speed and accuracy. Businesses are also planning to ramp up investments in digital assistants, AI systems that extract information from text, audio, images and videos, AI chatbots and voice agents. The convergence of modernised AI will dramatically elevate the business value and competitive edge for organisations, significantly giving rise to intelligent automation processes.
the true power of emerging technologies lies in the transformative capabilities they unleash
Despite being frequently overlooked, DLTs will also be providing a lot of value and tangible results across a wide array of industries. DLTs guarantee a number of potential advantages over traditional centralised or shared ledgers, including greater transparency, easier auditability, gains in speed and efficiency, cost reductions and automation. That said, these technologies may pose new risks and challenges, many of which are yet to be resolved.
Nevertheless, I strongly believe that the true power of emerging technologies lies in the transformative capabilities they unleash when integrated together under a common vision and infrastructure.
CONNECTIVITY IS A KEY ELEMENT TO ACHIEVING A EUROPE OF INNOVATION AND LASTING COMPETITIVENESS, AND ALSO OF WELLBEING. WHAT STEPS NEED TO BE TAKEN TO KEEP MALTA COMPETITIVE IN TERMS OF TECH AND CONNECTIVITY WITHIN EUROPE?
The technological revolution may trigger shifts in the ideal locations for ‘knowledge centres’ and innovation and industrial production. By 2030, new regional innovation and production centres will be definitively established in Europe. However, although Europe pushes optimisation of physical infrastructure, start-ups and SMEs also need access to finance for their technologies to reach scale.
Digital Europe’s 2019 Innovate Europe report describes ten fundamental building blocks for the competitiveness of the European innovation ecosystem. Among others, it highlights the need for increased innovation funding, more corporate-start-up collaboration, harmonized legislation and standards, and enabled government and public institutions.
A healthy gigabyte economy does not only require deployment of technologies, but also pro-investment policies and regulatory frameworks that support strong competition.
The powers of attraction and development will certainly depend on the openness of the markets, technological infrastructure, trade and information circuits and the financial capacity available for business development.
With its strategic location in the Mediterranean acting as a bridge between Europe and North Africa, Malta seeks to establish itself as an ideal location to act as a test-bed for business and innovation. However, efforts to attract more technology reliant businesses to Malta are expected to trigger demand for more resilient bandwidth.
A healthy gigabyte economy does not only require deployment of technologies, but also pro-investment policies and regulatory frameworks that support strong competition. In this respect, the authorities are committed to playing a key part in ensuring regulatory transparency of this environment. In this scenario, our role at Tech.mt will be that of an enabler and a facilitator, working with the private and public sector to drive technological innovation and ensure that Malta has vital links for the emerging Internet of Things market.
Malta ranks 5th out of the 28 EU Member States in the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) 2020
HOW DO WE FARE WHEN IT COMES TO CONNECTIVITY TO OTHER COUNTRIES AND CONTINENTS?
Malta has consistently strived to be ahead of the curve where technology and innovation are concerned with tech sector growth approaching 4% in the second quarter of 2020. This demonstrates that the Maltese technology sector is not only a valid economic pillar in its own right, contributing 9% of GDP and employing 10,000 people, but also is an essential enabler for almost all other sectors including Government.
Malta ranks 5th out of the 28 EU Member States in the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) 2020. With an overall connectivity score of 58.7, Malta ranks 10th among Member States in connectivity. Malta performs better than the EU average in all coverage indicators with 100% of households covered with NGA and VHC networks, fixed broadband take-up of 84%, and improvements in 100 Mbps broadband connections.
International connectivity investments on a new submarine cable system will connect Malta to Marseille and Egypt, thus providing international connectivity towards landing points in Europe and Africa that diversify from the existing ones in Italy. Our main fixed operators have upgraded their networks and invested in state-of-the-art nodes, providing nationwide coverage of speeds of up to 1Gbps.
At the end of 2018, one of the mobile operators announced that its investment in a 5G-ready mobile network already covers 85% of the Maltese Islands, with full coverage being achieved by end 2018. However, the market has not yet expressed any interest in the 5G pioneer bands. Spectrum in the 800 MHz and 2.5 GHz bands was assigned in 2018 on a technology and service neutral basis.
Malta scores 0% on the 5G readiness indicator
No demand has been registered for the 1.5 GHz band either, which remains available on a technology and service neutral basis. Consequently, Malta scores 0% on the 5G readiness indicator which is based on the percentage of spectrum assigned in the 5G pioneer bands. Only 30% of the total 2090 MHz spectrum harmonised at EU level for wireless broadband has been awarded on the basis of market demand.
The country also lacks a well-structured 5G strategy. In fact, the National Regulatory Authority of the Communications sector in Malta has published a White Paper on ‘5G Demand and Future Business Models – Towards a Feasible 5G Deployment’. This paper was part of a wider initiative including the establishment of a 5G think-tank, engagement with industry and the public sector concerning the benefits of 5G, and the promotion of tests and trials in 5G technology.
Malta performs extremely well on broadband connectivity. It ranks first in all DESI fixed broadband coverage indicators and has thus achieved the EU broadband coverage objectives. It is important that the country now focuses on paving the way for the 5G deployment.