Today, Cisco’s Annual Internet Report (AIR) was published – setting out the trends that will define our global communication networks for the next five years. As the European Commission sets out its strategy for a Europe “fit for the Digital Age,” the report provides insights into how the technology landscape across Western, Central, and Eastern Europe will rapidly expand to over 2.2 billion mobile devices and 3.6 billion IoT connections by 2023.

If the EU is to truly seize the opportunities of Europe’s digital transformation, AIR’s findings demonstrate that the EU should focus its policy priorities on creating a globally competitive, value-based, and inclusive European digital economy and society.

But what are the trends that will shape our European digital future?

Our digital economy will be built upon 5G foundations and Wi-Fi6

5G the fifth generation of wireless communications networks has generated no shortage of headlines across Europe, promising significant opportunities across the economy.

AIR looks beyond the headlines and predicts that, globally, there will be 1.4 billion total 5G connections by 2023; with 5G traffic generating 2.5-3 times more traffic than 4G.

Given this explosion in connectivity, the transformation and impact on all sectors of the economy cannot be underestimated. New speeds 13 times higher than the average mobile connection today will increase capabilities for consumers and businesses and in particular Internet of Things (IoT) devices, making 5G a critical building block of the digital economy and society. But it cannot be done through 5G alone.

WiFi is also seen as a significant growth area in the report and will be one of the main solutions to meet demands on the increasing bandwidth needs to enable operators to scale.  This is particularly important in dense environments with many concurrently connecting devices and IoT connections are running such as airports, public transport, healthcare, smart cities and stadiums.  Globally there will be nearly 628 million Wi-Fi hotspots by 2023, up from 169 million in 2018.

Cisco has already called for more unlicensed spectrum to be released in the lower part of 6GHz band (5925-6425 MHz). This is particularly important to ensure users will be able to fully benefit from the new capabilities of Wi-Fi 6.

Artificial Intelligence will be empowered by the spread of 5G

5G supported by Wi-Fi capabilities will see the widespread adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, but also be crucial in developing the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML).   AI has already had a significant positive impact in our day-to-day lives: bringing tangible benefits for consumers and businesses alike. But the future of AI has wide-reaching applications that will permeate all sectors of the European market; from healthcare to manufacturing, retail to transportation.

Machine learning (ML), through AI, will enable autonomous cars, truly smarter cities and connected health to become a reality. The report predicts that machine-to-machine (M2M) connections will increase 2.4-fold by 2023. In other words, by 2023, there will be three M2M connections to every individual living on the planet.

Europe’s research capabilities can create a unique opportunity to capitalise on these new technologies and position the EU as a frontrunner in AI. Through strategic investment, the EU can ensure that we not only foster the innovation essential to a prosperous digital economy, but that safeguards are put in place to maintain a human-centric approach to AI.

Digital skills will underpin everything

By 2023, almost two thirds of the world’s population will have internet access, compared to just over half in 2018. For Europe, this number is even higher. By 2023, 4 out of every five Europeans (80%) will have internet access. It is also fascinating to see that devices and connections are set to outnumber the global population by almost double.

But as access to connectivity improves, and new products and services increasingly play a central role in our society, digital skills become more relevant than ever.

At Cisco through our Networking Academies we are proud to provide essential digital training, and during FY19 we have reached 3250 Networking Academies and funded over €65 million of free training to over 317,000 people in the region. Since inception in 1997, that is over €813 million contributed in kind to provide this education to over 2.2m people.

With the rapid spread of new technologies, citizens need to be empowered and equipped with the necessary skills to grow with the changing landscape. Europe’s response is paramount to ensuring Europe stays competitive and that European citizens do not get left behind.

Our AIR shows just how much opportunity there is for the EU to power an inclusive future through digital transformation. The explosion of connected devices, adoption of 5G and Wi-Fi 6, and sheer growth of internet users means that lawmakers will have new ways to focus on the single market. And as the world’s largest provider of core 5G and cybersecurity technologies, Cisco is proud to continue being the partner that helps build this future across Europe.

Get the full details in the Annual Internet Report.



Pastora Valero

Senior Vice President, International Government Affairs

Government Affairs