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2023 ECCT Europe-Taiwan Telecom Forum

The ECCT's biannual 2023 Europe-Taiwan Telecom Forum was hosted for the seventh time in Taipei. Arranged by the ECCT's Telecom, Media and Content committee, the half-day event brought together telecom and technology industry experts, senior regulatory officials and executives from companies operating in all sectors of the telecom industry and supply chain, including Taiwan's major telecom operators and equipment suppliers from Taiwan and Europe. The theme of this year's forum was “How telecoms are driving sustainability, digitalisation, AI and industry innovation”. At the event opening remarks were made by guests of honour. This was followed by presentations in three sessions, lunch and a Q&A session.

Opening remarks were made by guests of honour Dr Kung Ming-Hsin (龔明鑫 主委), Minister of the National Development Council (NDC); Lauri Raunio, (羅瑞 代表), Representative from the Finland Trade Centre in Taiwan; Anders Wollter (歐瑞思 代表), Representative of Business Sweden, The Swedish Trade & Invest Council; Emile MP Chang (張銘斌 司長), Director-General of the Department of Investment Promotion under the Ministry of Economic Affairs and ECCT Chairman Giuseppe Izzo.

Presentations were given by Dr Chen Yaw-shyang (陳耀祥 主委), Chairperson of the National Communications Commission (NCC); Ethan Tu (杜奕瑾 創辦人), Founder of Taiwan AI Labs; Dr Lee Chung-hsi (李崇僖 副院長), Vice Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences of Taipei Medical University; Teng Wei-chung (鄧惟中 教授), Chief Talent and Information Officer of the Asia Silicon Valley Development Agency & Vice Dean of the College of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Taiwan Tech; Peter Fatelnig, Minister-Counsellor for Digital Economy Policy at the Delegation of the European Union to Japan and Alix Jagueneau, Head External Affairs at GSMA.

Over lunch, a presentation was given by Yeh Ning (葉寧 常務次長), Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Digital Affairs (MODA).

This was followed by a panel discussion moderated by David Chou (周大企), Co-chair of the ECCT's Telecom, Media & Content (TMC) committee featuring one speaker from the morning session, Dr Lee Chung-hsi, who was joined by Chen Chung-Shu (陳崇樹 委員), Commissioner of the NCC and Lin Jiunn-shiow (林俊秀 副署長), Deputy Director-General of MODA's Administration for Digital Industries. The event was concluded with closing remarks by Jason Liu (劉明達), Co-chair of the TMC committee.


Session 1: Policy perspectives on AI & telemedicine's cross-industry applications in the telecom industry

Topic: Vision of Smart Taiwan 2030
Speaker: Dr Chen Yaw-shyang (陳耀祥 主委), Chairperson, NCC

In his presentation, Dr Chen spoke about both regulatory and 5G developments in Taiwan.

Since 5G operations began in 2020, the number of 5G users has risen to eight million. Using funds raised from 5G auctions, the government is supporting telecom and digital development through subsidies for 5G infrastructure, submarine cables, and spectrum planning. To reduce the digital divide, it is supporting infrastructure development in remote areas. MODA is responsible for granting licences for private 5G networks.

On the subject of AI, the NCC, NDC and National Science and Technology Council have formed various task forces to come up with action plans for AI based on the following objectives: Leveraging AI for industrial transformation (to increase the value of Taiwan's AI industry), enhancing social well-being through AI applications (to address issues such as the hyper-ageing society and labour shortages) and positioning Taiwan as a global leader by enhancing competitiveness and cooperating with countries leading in AI.

The speaker went on to highlight some practical applications of AI and 5G. For example, an intelligent surveillance system has been deployed for traffic enforcement to reduce the burden on traffic officers. Cameras detect violations and automatically retain evidence, including vehicles failing to yield to pedestrians, running red lights and illegal parking. Embedded technology and deep learning algorithms provide accurate identification of violations. The system has been deployed in New Taipei, Taoyuan and Kaohsiung.

In another example, a 5G AI inspection service combines 5G network and AI imaging detection software to provide an AI automatic meter reading mechanism, making factory inspections efficient by eliminating the need for manual inspections.

In addition, huge demand for long-term and chronic disease care and the gap between urban and rural medical resources indicates that there is much potential for the development of telemedicine.

The speaker concluded that the NCC's objective is to be a “smart regulator” and that promoting transparency, connectivity and innovation has become crucial to the development of the digital economy.


Topic: Shaping the future of digital healthcare with the power of AI
Speaker: Ethan Tu, (杜奕瑾 創辦人), Founder, Taiwan AI Labs

AI Labs is Asia's first open AI institute. Its mission is to define the future of AI experiences. Over the past year, there have been significant developments in AI. Most famously ChatGPT showed how large language learning models have been able to collect and arrange language. In many functions, the ability of AI already surpasses that of the human brain. The speaker showed a video of a song created by AI to sound exactly like the voice of a know singer.

There has also been a lot of talk about the dangers of AI if left unchecked. That is why organisations working in the space have to follow ethical guidelines to ensure that they use AI responsibly in a way that is explainable, traceable, verifiable and auditable.

Federated learning (also known as collaborative learning) is a machine learning technique that trains an algorithm via multiple independent sessions, each using its own dataset. This approach stands in contrast to traditional centralized machine learning techniques where local datasets are merged into one training session, as well as to approaches that assume that local data samples are identically distributed. Federated learning enables multiple actors to build a common, robust machine learning model without sharing data, thus addressing critical issues such as data privacy, data security, data access rights and access to heterogeneous data.

The speaker shared an example of using the federated learning approach to analyse MRI images of brain tumours. In this case, multi-institutional datasets improve model generalisation, tumour detection, analysis and evaluating treatment responses.

An example of clinical management of lung patients shows that AI assistance provides timely information, which can lead to more effective treatment strategies.


Topic: Shaping a healthy society through communication technology: Trends and prospects of telemedicine in Taiwan
Speaker: Dr Lee Chung-hsi (李崇僖 副院長), Vice Dean, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Taipei Medical University

Professor Lee said that there remain legal barriers to implementing telemedicine in Taiwan. In particular, Article 11 of the Physician Act states that a physician may not administer treatment, issue prescriptions, or provide a medical diagnosis without conducting a personal examination. The act was passed in 1967 well before the computer age an any notion of telemedicine. However, this article has been interpreted as prohibited in principle but allowed in exceptional cases. Meanwhile amendments have been made over recent years to relax restrictions somewhat. For example, exceptions are now granted for people in remote areas, while, in 2020, during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the rule was basically suspended, although it has since been reinstated.

In 2018, telemedicine was allowed in five situations: For home care projects, family physician total care projects, follow-up for discharged patients within three months, residents in long-term care institutions and overseas patients. New legislation (currently being drafted) would extend telemedicine from the current five to another five situations: Chronic patient care, terminally ill patient care, correctional institutions inmates care, disaster and pandemic response and “other items designated by the competent authority”.

While all district public health centres have had their hardware updated to enable telemedicine, reimbursement for telemedicine from the national health insurance system is limited.

According to the speaker, utilisation of telemedicine would ease the burden on hospitals, especially since there is currently a chronic shortage of nurses. Lee expressed the view that nurses may be more willing to work in communities to take care of patients than in large hospitals. Telemedicine is also necessary given Taiwan's rapidly ageing population. It would save many elderly patients the trouble of having to visit hospitals in person. In addition, it would increase the number of patients that could be enrolled in clinical trials. The results may even be more accurate if data is based on patients living normal lives in their homes, rather than staying in hospitals.

However, before telemedicine can realise its true potential, legal issues need to be addressed, in particular, the issue of liability (for malpractice or product liability). Doctors may be unwilling to treat patients remotely if there is a risk of liability. There are also questions about protecting personal data and reimbursement that will need to be resolved.


Session 2: Telecom sustainability: Trends, incentives and regulations

Topic: ASVDA's role in advancing 5G open network verification and integration: Boosting Taiwan's sustainable growth in mobile network manufacturing
Speaker: Teng Wei-chung, Chief Talent and Information Officer, Asia Silicon Valley Development Agency (ASVDA)

According to the speaker, the market for global 5G vertical applications is expected grow strongly and reach a value of US$700 billion in 2030. The global 5G mobile communication network infrastructure market size (including nuclear networks and access networks) reached a value of US$26 billion in 2021.

Open Radio Access Networks (O-RAN) technology provides a more open radio access network architecture aimed at increasing interoperability between various vendors and creating more efficient networks. In 2021, O-RAN architecture accounted for approximately 1% of the overall mobile communications equipment market. By 2024, O-RAN architecture is expected to account for approximately 10% of the overall market, with a value exceeding US$4 billion.

Taiwan's 5G policy promotion direction is to promote cross-domain application services and technological independence through open network solutions. The vision of ASVDA is to make Taiwan the key digital innovator in Asia. 

ASVDA's 5G Smart Urban and Rural Subsidy Program is focused on accelerating the integration of 5G vertical application systems and supporting the overall integration of 5G open networks.

The speaker ended by showing some O-RAN use cases, including being able to create 3D model holograms, traffic management, smart factory transformation and rescue and disaster prevention.


Topic: Driving sustainable transformation in the telecom industry through AI: Insights from the EU
Speaker: Peter Fatelnig, Minister-Counsellor for Digital Economy Policy, Delegation of the European Union to Japan

In his pre-recorded speech, the speaker shared some developments from the EU. The world for telecoms is complicated. Cybersecurity of networks is essential for the industry itself as well as industries that depend on it. In 2020 the EU adopted a toolbox that defines the risks and measures to be taken to address cybersecurity issues. In particular, equipment supplied by risky entities is now restricted and it is recognised that existing equipment provided by these suppliers poses a security risk. Since June this year EU member states have accelerated the process to remove equipment provided by Chinese vendors.

On the subject of business sustainability, the speaker noted that users use telecom infrastructure differently from 20 years ago and business models need to change accordingly so that companies can remain sustainable.

On the subject of AI, no one can predict with accuracy the trajectory of AI development and its impact on industry. Every year 2-3 billion new IOT devices are introduced, including those powered by AI.

Smart agriculture using sensors, cameras, deployment of drones and pest management and AI models that make use of the data collected have great potential to help farmers to deal with adverse conditions and address food insecurity.

On the subject of energy efficiency, it is difficult to reduce energy use when demand is growing so strongly as a result of increasing automation and digitalisation. Meeting this demand will require building more telecom infrastructure. The industry accounts for about 3-4% of global emissions, about double the amount of civil aviation. With data traffic expected to grow another 60% this year, the environmental impact will only rise unless measures are taken to reduce the emissions of the sector. The average operator devotes 20-40% of total operational costs to energy. Technologies such as 5G will reduce energy usage per unit of data but will require building more base stations as more people and things are connected. Therefore, significantly more efficient equipment will be needed. Several designs and systems are now being developed to do this.

Companies have been doing a lot to reduce emissions. All major telcos have committed to reach net zero emissions, such as reducing energy consumptions and getting all energy from renewable sources.

The EU's AI Act provides useful guidelines for the deployment of AI. The speaker concluded that telecom operators are in a good position to address the challenges but only if the revenue models are sound.


Topic: How the mobile industry is taking action on climate change
Speaker: Alix Jagueneau, Head External Affairs at GSMA.

In her pre-recorded speech, the speaker noted that in 2019 the industry committed to reaching net zero by 2050, including the entire industry supply chain. The sector has been working to create an industry-wide climate action roadmap and publishes progress reports annually.

Last year saw a record level of disclosures by two thirds of operators. 64% of operators have set targets to reduce emissions and many have ambitious interim targets. On average, 70% of emissions are scope 3 emissions (indirect emissions from the supply chain).

The biggest challenge is that energy needs are great. 5G uses up to 90% less energy per unit of data. This means that upgrading to 5G would help to reduce overall emissions. The second biggest challenge is the lack of renewable energy, which is making it difficult for operators to meet their targets. Some have already hit 100% renewable targets, including Vodafone in Europe and T-Mobile in the United States, but others face difficulties in getting access to sufficient supplies in their domestic markets. Overall, about 25% of energy used by telecom operators now comes from renewables. This has been increasing gradually over the past few years. The interim target is to reach 70% by 2030.

Two areas need to be addressed. First is to increase the capacity of renewable energy. The second is to improve the market access conditions for companies to buy renewable energy.

On the subject of the circular economy, the two biggest sources of carbon emissions in the supply chain are mobile devices and network equipment. Improving sustainability in these areas would entail using renewable energy and recycled materials to produce them and extending their life cycles. This cannot be done by operators alone. They need to work with their suppliers. In June this year, GSMA together with 12 operators, adopted some new circularity targets to increase the number of take back schemes for mobile devices and to ensure that none of them would end up as waste.

Besides working to reduce their own emissions, mobile telecoms enable other sectors to reduce their emissions. In fact, the level of avoided emissions through digitalisation is ten times the level of the industry's own carbon footprints. This enabling effect is manifested in the deployment of smart technologies across different sectors of the economy, such as in buildings, transport, manufacturing and agriculture. In addition, AI and big data analytics can help monitor and predict air pollution levels.


Session 3: Speech by MODA deputy minister

Topic: The role of the telecommunications industry in promoting digital innovation and transformation
Speaker: Yeh Ning (葉寧 常務次長), Deputy Minister, Ministry of Digital Affairs (MODA)

MODA's “Resilience for All Vision” has the goal of building resilience in society, industrial development and the ability to deal with crises. 

The speaker cited the recent example of the damage caused to undersea cables connecting Taiwan with island of Penghu, two of 14 cables linking Taiwan to the world. Given how essential communication networks are not only for national security but also for business and other aspects of life, MODA is working to build multiple heterogenous networks, including the use of low orbit satellites (LEO). While less powerful than fibre-optic cable or land-based mobile networks, satellites can at least serve to maintain essential communications.

The speaker cited examples of how 5G is being deployed. Firefighters can now be trained using virtual reality (VR) scenarios, which eliminates the need for starting actual fires for training purposes. VR and augmented reality are also useful for education and training since they can offer real-time automated guidance and remote expert support. He also reiterated the potential for telemedicine raised by previous speakers.

In factory settings, integrating AI with Automated Optical Inspection (AOI) using 5G technology, AI analysis can identify production line defects, reducing AOI equipment error rates.

MODA's private 5G promotion office provides consultation services and issues licences to private network operators.

One of MODA's essential functions is to develop trustworthy digital communications systems. The ministry's SMS contact tracing system, deployed during the coronavirus pandemic, provided the right balance between the need for tracing and preserving privacy. Digital transformation and innovation will require increased data flow and operations. To build an environment of digital trust, a secure and effective digital identity verification solution is the essential.

The recently launched 111 Government Exclusive Short Code SMS Platform is a good example. The system uses the 111 short code to confirm that the SMS content comes from a government agency, thereby avoiding being deceived by counterfeit government messages from fraud groups.

The event concluded with a panel discussion moderated by TMC Committee Co-chair, David Chou (周大企). Speaker Dr Lee Chung-hsi participated and was joined by Chen Chung-Shu (陳崇樹 委員), Commissioner of the NCC and Lin Jiunn-shiow (林俊秀 副署長), Deputy Director-General of MODA's Administration for Digital Industries.