Learning Curve

Europe's Digital Czar Needs to Connect

Mr. Oettinger is still getting his head around some of the new technologies. Source DPA
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Mr. Oettinger needs to deliver a blueprint for Europe in the digital age.

  • Facts


    • Mr. Oettinger served as the governor of the German state of Baden-Württemberg.
    • Before taking over as the E.U. commissioner for the digital economy and society, he was in charge of energy policy.
    • The 61-year-old German admits he isn’t a “digital native.”
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It was another one of those Günther Oettinger moments.

The flat screen monitor in front of the E.U. commissioner in charge of digital policy showed a strawberry and an orange. The one image had good quality, the other poor. The better quality image consisted of densely packed blue dots, the other of individual blue dots in a diagram.

A young Frenchman next to the monitor told Mr. Oettinger that the bad image was transmitted via 3G, or third-generation mobile phone technology. The few dots depicted the data packets sent. The better image, with many dots, was transmitted via the new 5G technology currently under development, which the European Union is generously funding.

The young man gave a good presentation, but Mr. Oettinger, on a tour of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, appeared puzzled. He looked at the fruit and the dots, wrinkled his brow and then gazed at the young Frenchman, as if he were talking about quantum physics. Then Mr. Oettinger asked in English: “What could be the outcome of this?”

The Frenchman looked confused. Then a man from the Fraunhofer Institute leaned forward and said in German: “This demonstration shows how 5G can send more data in less time than we’ve been able to do so far.” The commissioner nodded and continued his tour of the trade fair.

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