As Cyprus needs to get connected to keep up with the rest of the world when it comes to digitalising the economy, authorities have decided to step in to boost the country’s fast internet infrastructure.
After ranked among the bottom five EU countries in the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), for another year, the Deputy Ministry of Innovation decided the state must cover the investment gap in laying the groundwork for fast internet connections.
The DESI is a composite index that summarises relevant indicators on Europe’s digital performance and tracks the evolution of EU Member States in digital competitiveness.
Cyprus ranked 24 out of 28 with just 2% of households connected with high speeds.
Cyprus is seriously lagging in digital connectivity as it was ranked 27 out of the 28 EU members, propped up by Bulgaria in last place, and after Greece.
“Seeing that building a fast internet network will not be a viable task if it is left to the private sector alone, the government has decided to step in, to push things along,” said George Komodromos at the Deputy Ministry of Innovation.
The Junior ministry has issued a tender for selecting a consulting firm to advise on preparing the “Cyprus Broadband Plan 2021-2025” — the country’s digital roadmap to implement the 1 GB society scheme by 2025.
“The scheme foresees a majority of households with access to fast internet speeds while some areas will have access to speeds of 1 Gbps,” Komodromos told the Financial Mirror.
He said Cyprus’ roadmap seeks to digitally transform both the public and private sector, and champion innovation in line with the country’s level of digital maturity.
“The study will identify areas in which Cyprus is lagging, including infrastructure indicating where the state needs to intervene to close the investment gap as the project will not be viable if it is left up to the private sector alone.
“Cyprus will need to set up a fibre optic network covering a majority of the island. Laying cables to remote villages will not be a viable task for the private sector. That is where we come in.”
Komodromos admitted that Cyprus has a long way to go to catch up with other European countries regarding connectivity.
“When it comes to having a connection of at least 100 Mbps fixed broadband take-up, just 2% of Cypriot households enjoy such speeds, while the fibre optic network covers only 10% of the country.”
Experts welcome state intervention, noting that more needs to be done if Cyprus is not to miss the digital transformation train.
“There is simply no next train,” said professor Antonis Polemitis.
Talking to the Financial Mirror, Polemitis, the University of Nicosia CEO and professor in Digital Currency, said Cyprus is in danger of being left waiting on the railway platform, “as we watch the digitalisation train pass in front of us”.
“We certainly welcome the steps taken by the Deputy Ministry of Innovation, and hope more is done to push things forward.
The more we delay laying out the infrastructure for fast internet, the more catching up we will have to do, and unfortunately, the rest of the world will not wait for us.”
Internet of things
Polemitis argued that soon, technological advancements and communication will rely a lot on augmented and virtual reality.
“We will no longer be having teleconferences in front of screens. With technological advancements facilitated by faster connections, it will feel like your interlocutor is in the same room with you,” said Polemitis.
He said that in Dubai, when one rents a flat, the contract is signed online, with all utility bills being automatically transferred to the tenant.
“The new tenant can move in immediately, not having to visit a single office to connect the electricity or transfer the water bill under their name.
“And then you have the internet of things, with the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data”.
Polemitis argued Cyprus will not be able to make use of these advancements with fast connections for devices to communicate.
He added this is where 5G technologies come into play as a fast network will not only rely on cables on the ground.
Apart from laying the infrastructure, Cyprus has a lot more to do to get up to speed with the rest of the world.
“One of the areas we are lagging is e-governance, an area where we have a lot to do, starting from the simplest things such as digitising government and other services. You cannot move into the digital era when your data is still in box-files.”
Polemitis believes Cyprus should have been at the forefront of digitalising its economy, compared to other countries.
“A task not so hard to achieve, basically all it would take is to invest in the latest technology available and enhancing people’s digital skills.
“To start with, Cyprus needs to invest in getting connected with the rest of the world. That would mean investing in quality fast connections with the rest of the world by adding bandwidth through underwater cables.”
The professor said another thing that needs doing is for Cyprus telecoms to upgrade their networks, invest in fibre optic technologies.
“Stepping our game up is fairly easy to do. Fibre optic cables have been around since the 1990s, but we did not want to invest in them, arguing over the past decades that Cypriots only use the internet for Facebook and chats,” said Polemitis.
He argued that during the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown, it became apparent that a modern society cannot function without online services.
“If there is one thing this virus has taught us, it’s that our society will not be able to function without digital technologies. So, everyone will have to get on board before it’s too late.”