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Holger Haljand: Cyber risks growing in tandem with data volume

Holger Haljand.
Holger Haljand. Source: Private archive

While we have come a quarter century since the initial triumph of the internet, the development of the global data network is showing no signs of slowing. Every new year delivers double-digit growth in data volume. But with it grow cyberspace threats and the need to manage risks, Telia CEO Holger Haljand writes.

The Estonian telecom sector is very much keeping up with the rest of the world and demand for an even better and faster network keeps growing. Telia networks' data volume (both mobile and broadband) more than doubled in 2019-2023, while mobile data volume has grown by over 20 times since 2015.

What is behind this rapid growth? The 2023 Ericsson Mobility Report points to three factors contributing to increased data demand. First, we have at our disposal increasingly powerful devices, with every update changing how and where we use them.

Second, content requires more and more data, whether we're talking about streaming services or video conferencing applications used at home and in offices.

The third component lies in the ever-expanding opportunities offered by the web. The fiber-optic network still has the most potential. Copper cables will be replaced with fiber-optics everywhere in Europe over the coming years. It is also possible to combine the fixed network with airborne 5G in places where developing fiber-optics is too expensive or technically impossible.

The number of devices tapping into the mobile network is growing many times as fast as the number of new clients. Companies play a major role here as their activities are increasingly web-based as a result of automation and digitization.

Different dimensions of traffic

In addition to the active digital lives of people and organizations, the internet of things plays an increasingly important part in terms of data volume, even though most people do not really perceive its true scope and benefit. While the internet of things was initially meant to make all of our appliances talk to one another (such as a fridge monitoring which foods are starting to run out) its actual application has become a matter of imperceptible conveniences.

We often take it for granted when the barrier automatically rises when we pull into the parking lot, how we can control our appliances, from robot mowers to heating systems, using our mobile devices, and how electricity and gas meters send in their readings without any human intervention.

The pace of life is such that we want these conveniences to be available in all of our devices, our phones, computers and television sets. All of it is contributing to growing mobile and fixed network data volumes.

Over the next few years, telecoms will have to put a considerable part of their resources toward 5G development. Customers in Estonia have not seen the full potential of 5G yet as development is still underway, and we will see all of its benefits and the developmental leap it will deliver in the coming years. We are laying the groundwork today.

Ericsson forecasts the global number of 5G users to grow to 5.3 billion by 2029, with the average data volume per customer growing from the current 21 gigabytes to 56 gigabytes a month. This is based on 5G networks covering 85 percent of the world. We will likely hit that milestone much sooner in Estonia.

Active use also brings risks

But the triumph of the internet also has a darker side. While our streets are generally safe to walk no matter the time of day, the same cannot be said of cyberspace.

On the one hand, we need constant efforts to raise awareness among individuals and companies, while we also need effective solutions for combating fraud and cyberattacks. Data from the Estonian Information System Authority (RIA) suggests that the lion's share of cyber risks come in the form of phishing sites aimed at Estonian users where a higher level of awareness is the best remedy.

But we forecast a spike in malware attacks aimed at larger organizations and different cyberattacks that impact society's functioning and resilience in the coming years. The importance of such attacks is only set to grow in time and in correlation with the extent and volumes of our digital lives.

Ensuring resilience in cyberspace and the shifting sands of the physical world is something that will count for a lot of telecom investments in the next ten years and determine who will be considered a trustworthy and high-quality service provider.

People will expect their homes to be heated, their water to be pure and their mobile data connections to work seamlessly also over the coming decades.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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