“A few years ago, Skype was a typo, a tweet was something you heard from a bird and a cloud was something you saw in the sky.”
Oh how we laughed as UK Prime Minister David Cameron made an appearance at the CeBIT trade show in Germany where he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the two countries are to work on the development of a 5G network.Frankly I felt a bit sorry for Cameron. My one and only trip to CeBIT remains a scar etched permanently on my memories - traipsing around a series of aircraft hangers full of tech companies ludicrously convincing themselves that their press release will be the one that stands out among the literally tens of thousands of others being issued at the same event.
But the aching urge to be seen at the bleeding edge of modernity compels all political leaders at some point to be seen at a major technology event and with an election coming up next year and a need to keep in with the Germans while trying to renegotiate UK membership of the European Union, CeBIT was a logical choice for Cameron.
While the Cameron-led administration has done a lot of good work in reforming - or kickstarting reform - in the UK public sector, it has to be said that the Prime Minister’s most notable personal technology markers to date have been his alleged (too) closeness to Google and his infamous proclamation that “too many tweets might make a tw*t.”
No, really he did. Overseas readers check this out:
(He is on Twitter now BTW.)
But the CeBIT visit was all about innovation and industry and:
“a mission...to promote the extraordinary tech sector we have in the UK.
“It is our ambition to make the UK the most digital nation in the G8 and it is my mission to show the world that we’re getting there.”
There was a plug for the national G-Cloud cloud computing programme - the one that Brussels is none too keen on! - as
“one of the world’s most innovative tender systems in the world.” (sic).
And of course a big push for Tech City in East London which is:
“is teeming with start-ups and new ideas. It started less than three and a half years ago with 200 digital companies in that area of east London now there are 1,300.”
But the business of the day was an alliance between UK and Germany to create a next generation mobile internet network with three universities from the two countries working towards this.
Someone has also told Cameron about the Internet of Things so that was also on the agenda:
“I see the Internet of Things as a huge transformative development a way of boosting productivity of keeping us healthier making transport more efficient reducing energy needs, tackling climate change.”
On a less soundbite, more practical note, Cameron plugged the announcement today of changes to the government’s Spectrum Strategy:
“We aim to double the economic benefits of spectrum to UK companies and consumers from roughly £50 billion today, to £100 billion in 2025.
“We’ll do this by allowing new applications to come online, new kinds of mobile technologies to be used, more data usage to be enjoyed and greater broadcasting services to be made available.”
Further action is needed, he added:
But running through all this is the desire to foster an Anglo-German axis within the European Union:
“Beyond that we need the ideas to turn the Internet of Things from a slogan to a fact. So I have personally tasked the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser to explore what more we must do in this area.
“We’re making available £73 million of funding to put the boosters under research. And I can announce today that we are launching a new European Internet of Things grant fund – valued at up to £1 million for companies that are grabbing these new opportunities.”
“We are on the brink of a new industrial revolution and I want us – the UK and Germany – to lead it.
“Take British ingenuity in software, services and design add German excellence in engineering and industrial manufacturing and together we can lead in this new revolution.”
Cameron made no mention of the NSA spying scandal whose undercurrents can be tangibly felt at CeBIT with the emphasis placed on data security and data management. But Merkel was keen to talk about it:
"This digital world has to be given a legal framework, an underlying order. We're only at the beginning of that. National laws alone will not suffice.
"This should also be a subject of intensive talks with our American partners.”
The UK has a lot in common with Germany - not least the genes of a Royal Family!
This is all good stuff in terms of the funding and commitments made. Anything that fosters further development of the European digital agenda should be welcomed.
Cameron has a lot to gain politically from keeping in Merkel’s favor at present as she represents a powerful ally for a wider agenda that could determine the UK Prime Minister’s fate with his own electorate.
What will be interesting to watch will be how far the UK is prepared to pal up with Germany which has recently called for the creation of a European Internet on the back of the PRISM scandal.
To date, only the French government has backed what many see as a dangerously protectionist - and, some argue, essentially anti-American - idea. But then the French are still miffed about none of the rest of us appreciating le Minitel!
Will Cameron’s wider political needs bring him into the fold on this folly as well? Or will he just keep quiet for fear of rocking Anglo-US relations?