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Advanced Communications: The EU gets its ACTS together

The Community's specific RTD programme in the area of advanced communications technologies and services, otherwise known as the ACTS programme, is a five-year programme scheduled to run from 1994 to 1998. This article provides an overview of the aims, structure and activities ...
The Community's specific RTD programme in the area of advanced communications technologies and services, otherwise known as the ACTS programme, is a five-year programme scheduled to run from 1994 to 1998. This article provides an overview of the aims, structure and activities of the ACTS programme, as presented by the programme itself:

"One of the more progressive research initiatives currently being funded under the EU's research budget covers Advanced Communications Technologies and Services (or ACTS as it is known). Some 157 projects are now working together, within an integrated programme, to produce key demonstrable components for the technological infrastructure on which a future Information Society may be built.

Though of modest budget in comparison to other programmes (at ECU 670 million), ACTS supports the largest set of linked trials, experiments, and demonstrations of applications, services and technologies existing anywhere in the world. By maintaining a practical, outward-facing stance, ACTS seeks to maximize the impact and visibility of its results.

Putting subsidiarity into practice, ACTS research is linked to trials already taking place within the Member States and other countries having advanced communications testbeds. In all, there are some 23 National Hosts offering test-beds and experimental network facilities to ACTS projects, including in countries as far away as USA, Canada and Japan.

Individual demonstrations and trials undertaken with support from the programme may either be small and carefully focused local events, or equally very large-scale international demonstrations of advanced communications. The latter may actively involve dozens of different countries, and are often associated to major exhibitions or conferences.

What makes ACTS unique amongst the EU's research programmes is that individual project results are brought together, and synergies are built up, through an in-built concertation mechanism. This ensures that projects are made aware of each others results and that cooperative initiatives develop naturally, thus contributing to the production of coherent results supported by a broad base of expertise and participating organizations. It is the programme results of ACTS that will make a substantial contribution to relevant standardization, and help build guidelines for the development of longer-term policy goals covering the European communications sector.

The EU actively seeks international cooperation in a number of economic sectors, amongst which communications and related Information Society issues are prominent. In the communications business, the commercial interests of equipment manufacturers, network operators and major corporate users all have an international focus. Communications is in itself, a truly international business. Europe's promotion of international cooperation in this sector is, therefore, fully in-line with strong business interests.

Many major obstacles of a technical, economic and political nature, have still to be overcome, before a Global Information Society can become reality. Given the scale of investment needed to upgrade existing services and network infrastructure to future multimedia applications, "backing the wrong horse" would prove to be a very costly, and perhaps fatal mistake for any single organization or country acting alone. The developed countries of the world, and their major organizations, therefore have little choice but to cooperate with each other to determine the basic standards that will set the framework for open competition and rapid commercial take-up of advanced communications services.

In this context, international initiatives like the G7 Pilot Projects are considered to have a very important and catalytic role to play in developing the infrastructure necessary for an Information Society.

In 1994, ACTS became the first EU research programme to be open to world-wide participation. Thirty-three countries now participate in ACTS. In addition to the 15 Member States, there are some 18 countries outside of the EU now taking part, including 9 from Central and Eastern Europe. In all, this represents around 1,000 different organizations having a strong interest in advanced communications.

International participation in ACTS has now become an active element in the relationship the Community has established with its major trading partners, both bilaterally and at regional level. As an example, the ASEM meeting in Bangkok, last February, was attended by European Heads of State seeking to establish greater cooperation links to Asian countries. In this context, it is of particular note that five Japanese companies and one from Singapore have now been welcomed into the ACTS Programme. This complements a similar presence from Canada (eight companies) and the USA (also eight).

From its greatly extended base of international expertise, ACTS intends to build up practical experience in advanced communications with all other major research centres around the world. Interconnection Trials are already planned in the context of the G-7 Pilot Project GIBN (Global Interconnection of Broadband Networks), which will link Japan, USA and Canada to the G7 countries of Europe, and through them, to the wider experiments being conducted within individual Member States, or collaboratively through European programmes such as ACTS.

As a result of two calls for proposals, the full scope of research foreseen for ACTS is now implemented and a coherent, well structured programme of projects established. As individual results begin to emerge in the later stages of ACTS, there may yet be scope for extending the practical demonstrations, and for undertaking a wider consultation on programme results and a general broadening of awareness".

Source: European Commission, DG XIII

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