Common platforms: the basis for individual innovation

Matthias Kurth, President, Federal Network Agency*


In this IEC Global Visions interview, Matthias Kurth, President Federal Network Agency, shares why he believes in standardization and how IEC International Standards help his agency to accelerate the convergence and renovation of the Energy, Telecommunications, Transport and Postal Sectors in Germany and in Europe. Why standards are necessary to get competitors to cooperate on common goals and to stimulate investments in new technologies and safeguard industry and consumer needs. How they can help avoid island solutions and promote interoperability of products and networks. 
* March 2010



Matthias Kurth, President, Federal Network Agency*

What is your role as a regulator ?

Kurth:Regulators have to ensure that we get the modern infrastructure for the 21st century in place. We have to guarantee that there is investment, that there is competition in the interest of consumers, that there is fair pricing for products.

For that we need to provide incentives. We set a framework for this innovation. The innovation is not done by the regulators, but the innovation needs to be guided in specific directions by clear signals. Those include laws, but also business models -  people want to earn money. Regulation needs to bring the law, economics and technology together to make it work.

There are a lot of new technologies in every network. We need to make certain that these networks are secure, that competition is possible, that consumer welfare is guaranteed. We have a lot of diverging interest that need to be brought together. 

This is ongoing work. We have a moving target and  can't clearly foresee the future. However, we need to ensure that fair competition is possible, that there is a level playing field, for everybody, that there is transparency on specific developments. In the end of the day we all work for the consumer and for the industry. We have to create a win-win situation. 

What has changed in your work over the years?

Kurth: Important is now that we think across borders and sectors. In this century, a lot of sectors are converging, for example, an electricity network is also an IT network, or a communication network, so I think we as regulators can facilitate that these different sectors and networks are working together when it comes to rollout, to innovation, to the building of infrastructure and when it comes to new investment. So what I'm working on and would expect more, is an integrated way of thinking. The convergence of different networks and different technologies is a big topic. There are a lot of synergies we could develop and that is something we are working on very hard.

What are the biggest challenges for a regulator like yourself?

Kurth: The challenges are that we have to renovate these infrastructures,  they are out of the last century, some of them have to be rebuilt, reconstructed. Let me take the energy sector as an example. Smart grid is a key for renovating the whole energy industry, saving  energy, using electricity more efficiently in an intelligent way and giving the consumer the potential to reduce energy costs. Without smart grid and without metering, we are wasting electricity and energy and therefore we have to speed up in saving energy with new and modern technologies. We need to add intelligence to existing networks and we need modern infrastructure inside the network. We need to ensure that the end user equipment is able to communicate and work together.

We have competition, we have thousands of players in this market, so we have to guarantee, and standards can help us, that all these different players, who are in competition can work together on a same goal.

How do you see the role of standards in your work?

Kurth: What we see in a converged world is that there is a lot of innovation, there are thousands of new developments. But systems need to work together over networks, over frequencies, they have to be interoperable. We have worldwide fights over different standards… To harmonize everything from day may not be possible, it would kill innovation. But what is important is to have transparency that hopefully the best standard will win.

We are not an engineering organization, so we need the help of innovation from the industry side and the IEC can help us to bring this innovative potential of the industry on the right track. That we don't have island solutions, proprietial solutions, because they can hinder the growth of the market.

Today we no longer have only one network, like in monopoly days. We have a  patchwork of networks, with competition in a lot of sectors. We have 900 networks in electricity, we have 100 networks in telecommunication and it is like a puzzle to bring these networks together. My problem is that still everybody is only thinking very narrow mindedly, limited, in his sector and doesn’t realize the spill-over effect to other sectors, in infrastructure, rollout on the technology side and other.

The IEC can help to make the development of progress in the industry sector more transparent. The IEC can also help to bring different industry players together on common platforms which are transparent, open, which are the basis of individual innovation.

I think different standard organizations should also closely cooperate, that we don't do double work. We should also think in standardization about synergies. Nobody should invent the wheel a second time.