Hardly anyone talks about the “World Wide Web” these days; the abbreviation WWW can be left out if you call up websites. And yet the idea remains: a single internet where people can meet virtually across all borders, where goods can be bought internationally.
But Claudia Nemat is worried about the future of this “one” network, and that is also due to Russia’s attack on Ukraine: “We see that the system rivalry between the United States and China is intensifying,” the Deutsche Telekom board member stated in the As part of the Munich Economic Debates, a series of events organized by the Ifo Institute and the SZ.
The world is in danger of falling into two “technospheres”, as Nemat calls it: on the one hand, an American-European one with giants like Apple or Microsoft, on the other hand, a Chinese-dominated one with corporations like Huawei or Tencent; The manager would also count Russia among the latter.
“That wouldn’t be so good by global standards,” warns Nemat about this dichotomy. The next generation of mobile communications, 6G, could then be subject to different standards in the West than in the East; and different trading and payment platforms already dominate the respective spheres. “Everything will then definitely go much slower and also become more expensive,” says the 53-year-old. Because of course the world of mobile phones, computer chips and programming has so far lived from international supply chains, to put it euphemistically: from the division of labour.
The pandemic has been a stress test for telecom networks
Nemat is, as she says herself, the “techie” on the Telekom board: the physicist and former university lecturer worked for the consulting firm McKinsey for a long time before moving to Telekom in 2011. While Nemat was initially responsible for European foreign business from Poland to Greece, she took over responsibility for technology and innovation five years ago.
And now at a time when Russia’s war is almost obscuring other crises: climate change, for example, or the Corona crisis. But Nemat argues that digital technologies in particular help to remain resilient in crises, i.e. adaptable, resilient.
“Without digitization, we would have coped with the consequences of the corona pandemic much less well,” says the manager, recalling private or professional video conferences, the number of which increased by 300 percent within a few days. Nevertheless, the networks have remained stable on the whole.
Nemat attributes this primarily to the fact that operators such as Telekom had invested in the digitization of the networks just in time: for example in the conversion of old DSL and ISDN connections and analog voice telephones to the Internet Protocol (IP). That is the prerequisite for customers with corresponding contracts to be able to switch to higher bandwidths more quickly – and for companies like Telekom to see what is happening in their network earlier.
Companies get through crises well if they enable the brain-switching of many
But digitization alone does not create resilience. Telekom felt this last summer, for example, when the floods in western Germany damaged telephone lines and junction boxes and cellphone antennas were without power for days. It was more a matter of hundreds of people who gradually rebuilt the network: cell phone reception first, then the landline network.
Nemat sees it as an expression of a “perhaps somewhat old-fashioned” virtue, of a sense of duty, which she certainly doesn’t want to be misunderstood: “Duty doesn’t mean that I assume I’m great or do everything perfectly.” In a phase full of crises, it is much more important to anticipate how people’s behavior will develop. “What is considered legitimate changes over time,” warns the manager.
Companies would get through crises well if they enabled the brains of many to be switched on. “The time of the omniscient managers who embody the hero model is actually condemned to death,” concludes Nemat. While some people long for a strong decision-maker in crises, the Telekom manager puts it in exactly the opposite way: “The male, omniscient hero is now slowly dead.”
In any case, digitization can help managers – coupled with the right attitude – to react faster and more flexibly to crises. But it is also clear: “Digital technologies do not create peace in the world at all,” says Nemat, “that is our job.”