Norway was well positioned to meet the coronavirus crisis

When the coronavirus crisis hit Norway, the ‘new normal’ suddenly became home working, home schooling and minimal physical contact. The date when the most intrusive measures were introduced is easily identified when we look at phone network traffic data for March 2020. Nationally, speech traffic doubled over night – it was clear that Norwegians needed to talk to one another in order to get to grips with the dramatic situation.

Pipes at an offshore installation with zeros and ones symbolising digitalisation.

Photo: © Kongsberg Group. Used by agreement.

The data traffic moved from the office to the home. Capacity was needed for essentials such as home working, home schooling, online medical consultations and – for those who needed it – applications for financial support from the Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV). But there was also a demand for online entertainment, cultural input and social contact with friends, family and work colleagues.

Luckily, the country was in a good position to take on the challenges of remote working and contactless interaction. Norway has a robust digital foundation. The population is digitally literate. For years, the public sector has been investing in digital gateway solutions that provide highly effective online public services. This means that our society and our government agencies can take rapid action when something happens.

Norway has gone digital

Norway is one of the most extensively digitalised countries in the world. Every year, the EU surveys Europe’s digital performance status through the Digital Economy and Society Index, DESI. DESI 2020 shows that Norway is clearly improving in the areas of digital infrastructure (broadband and mobile network coverage), digital public services and digital skills. Norway tops the ranking, with the other Scandinavian countries. According to the survey, Norway’s population has the highest rate of internet activity, and more than 90 per cent make use of digital public services or contact government agencies online. Norway’s score is particularly high when it comes to online public administration processes and digital services for business. Along with Denmark, Norway’s access to mobile networks and broadband connectivity is the best in Europe.

Norwegian local authorities are also performing well compared to their international counterparts. The Nordic Digital Municipality Index compares 60 municipalities in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. These municipalities are diverse in terms of size, population and geographic spread. The survey, commissioned by Telenor, shows that Norwegian local authorities are good at delivering digital services to their local residents. The digitalisation of large cities and municipalities has progressed the furthest, but small and medium-sized Norwegian municipalities also achieve very high scores in the survey.

A robust digital foundation

The spring and summer of 2020 put the resilience of Norway’s digital foundation to the test. And this was a test it passed. The Norwegian telecom networks and data centres were built to cope with heavy traffic, and they are well run. Local, regional and national companies all play a part in this important undertaking. Since 2012, more than NOK 70 billion has been invested in the digital infrastructure, and substantial resources have been expended to ensure that it is safe and well prepared to withstand the onslaught of harsh weather as well as cyberattacks.

By the end of 2020, Norway had reached the target of 90 per cent of households being offered high-speed broadband of more than 100 Mbit/s. The new target is that 100 per cent of households should have access to 100 Mbit/s by 2025. In 2019 the private network companies invested more than NOK 12 billion in mobile and broadband networks. The government contributes with subsidies for the development of broadband connectivity in areas where this is not profitable for commercial developers. Since 2014, more than NOK 1.5 billion has been allocated for this purpose. These funds are distributed so that those with the greatest unresolved requirements receive the most, with county councils being responsible for allocating the money. Additionally, there is government support for telecom safety and emergency preparedness.

The Broadband Development Act came into force on 1 July 2020. This legislation is intended to make it simpler for developers to access existing infrastructure like utility poles and pipes, thereby reducing the complexity and cost of further developing the broadband. The Government expects that this will speed up the development of high-capacity networks and give Norwegian citizens more broadband at a lower cost. The Norwegian Communications Authority (Nkom) will develop a website to provide information about such existing infrastructure and planned building works.

Telia's base station at Trollstigen. In the foreground is the base station with solar panels and windmills for power. Mountain landscape in the background.
RAUMA: Mobile coverage at Trollstigen

Until the summer of 2020 there was an 11-kilometre section of road between the Trollstigen plateau and the Langdal valley that had no mobile coverage. The area sees significant traffic during the tourist season, and being able to call for help can be a matter of life and death in an emergency situation.

Telia Norway won the contract for a pilot project intended to provide mobile phone coverage in this area, the challenge being access to power. The chosen solution is based exclusively on green energy. The station is powered by solar panels and wind turbines, using hydrogen as a backup power supply. Water vapour will therefore be the only emissions involved.

The project shows the importance of partnerships between central and local government and private businesses that control critical infrastructure.

Photo: Telia Norway. Used by agreement.

5G and the Internet of Things (IoT)

Norway is well served by fourth generation mobile networks (4G) that provide very good coverage. The Government has also acted early to facilitate the next generation of networks (5G) by purchasing available frequencies and awarding spectrum through auctions. By doing so, and by making plans for further frequency auctions, Norway will be in a position to make early use of the considerable opportunities for innovation and value creation that follow from 5G.

The 5G networks can be built so that providers easily can put up tailored services (virtual networks) for various purposes. This is referred to as network slicing. This sliced architecture makes it possible to offer tailored services for e.g. communication, control and process monitoring. 5G infrastructure will be essential for a full-scale roll-out of IoT with a capacity which is beyond the capabilities of today’s technology. This will open up entirely new areas of use, e.g. within emergency response and preparedness, for the transport sector, manufacturing industry, agriculture, health and social care, and smart cities.

Not all IoT applications need to transmit large volumes of data. The sensor will often need to send only simple measurements or signal a change of status. In this case, Narrow Band IoT technology can be used instead of 5G. NB-IoT is based on the existing 4G network and is a so-called low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) technology. LPWAN work in a wide area with low power consumption at low transmission speeds, allowing the batteries to last for years.

Installer checking balls with sensors on the power lines.
SANDNES: IoT in the National Grid – Heimdall Power

Heimdall Power has developed a sensor that can monitor National Grid power lines and trigger an alarm before there is a fault. The sensors are built into a ball that is mounted on the power line. They gauge temperature, vibration and line inclination. Realtime data from the sensors are sent to the power company via NB-IoT, so that they can despatch their maintenance crews as required. They also send information about spare network capacity, so that the companies can plan for better utilisation. This may reduce the need for investment in new power lines.

The sensor balls are developed and produced by Heimdall Power in Norway. Heimdall serves a global market and they have installations in several European countries.www.heimdallpower.com

Photo: Heimdall Power. Used by agreement.

Digital participation and literacy

Norway’s population is among the most digitally literate in the world. As public services increasingly go online, it is important that no-one is excluded because they are unfamiliar with the technology.

Since 2014, the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation has granted more than NOK 30 million in funding to various initiatives designed to increase the level of digital participation in the population. It is a clear objective for the Government that everyone who wants it, should be given an offer of basic digital training.

The Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS), Skills Norway and the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation work in partnership to provide the Digihjelpen service, an offer of digital assistance provided locally for those with little or no basic digital skills. There is also a support scheme available to local authorities and voluntary organisations that wish to offer local digital literacy courses and guidance sessions. So far, more than 100 local authorities have received such support. Additionally, the Seniornett scheme receives funding to run digital literacy courses specifically for the elderly.

Moreover, Norway has put in place legislation to ensure that websites, mobile applications and other systems with a public user interface, such as ticket machines and cashpoints have a universal design so that they are accessible to people with disabilities.

Specialist expertise

Norway is among the world’s leading countries in terms of basic digital skills among the population, but there is a need for more IT specialists. Nevertheless, recent years have seen a positive trend: since 2015, the Government has given special priority to ICT-related study programmes. This has meant that every year, nearly 1600 additional students can start a degree course in ICT, and the first cohort of students are now about to graduate. In recent years, we have also seen universities and colleges create an increasing number of student places in fields of study that are in particular demand on the jobs market, like cyber security, artificial intelligence and data science.

Nevertheless, the demand for IT specialists remains significant. The 2020 Education Boost initiative meant 5000 additional student places, many of them in ICT. The initiative was put in place to meet increased demands for student places because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Courses and continuing education

The technological development means that many jobs are changing. Some tasks are done away with while other tasks, that need different skills, are introduced.

A survey conducted by KPMG about digitalisation in business shows that Norwegian companies believe the greatest barrier to digitalisation is lack of necessary skills required to introduce digital solutions in the organisation. One third of all respondents consider it a challenge that the organisation lacks understanding of what digital solutions would be appropriate and beneficial for the company.

According to OECD, Norwegian workers – graduates as well as non-graduates – benefit from more in-service training than workers in most other countries. About under half the workers attend courses or other training initiatives every year, normally funded by the employer.

Many businesses take part in clusters and other industry groupings where they share their own expertise and knowhow with other businesses. Some work in partnership with each other and with educational institutions to develop courses on topics of importance to their own business or industry.

In 2020, a new skills reform was introduced: ‘Lifelong learning’. The aim is to ensure that no-one is left behind due to a lack of skills, and that the jobs market have access to the skills and competencies required. A scheme for flexible education at universities and university colleges has been set up as part of the scheme. This makes it easier for more people to acquire top-up qualifications irrespective of their work situation and where they live.

The Government has also provided funding for the development of flexible continuing education schemes that are geared towards the needs of the jobs market, particularly the skills that are required to digitalise businesses. In 2021, initiatives that will enhance digital competencies, Cyber security and green transition/sustainability skills will be prioritised.

Divided picture. On one side a man wearing protective gear with ocean in the background. On the other side the same man studying at a table.
OSLO: Industrial Digital Academy (IDA)

The Industrial Digital Academy (IDA) is a collaboration between Cognite, Aker ASA and Digital Norway. IDA offers courses in industrial data and digitalisation – important subjects for established engineers and others who work in industry. The courses focus on data science, industrial data platforms, artificial intelligence and blockchains. All programmes are free.www.cognite.com/ida

The more practical courses make use of industrial data sets from Open Industrial Data (OID). OID is the result of collaboration between Aker BP and Cognite. It is based on live streaming of data from a compressor on the Valhall oil platform in the North Sea. The idea is that the data sharing will accelerate innovation in fields such as condition monitoring and advanced visualisation techniqueswww.openindustrialdata.com

Photo: Cognite. Used by agreement.

Continuing education during the coronavirus crisis

When the coronavirus pandemic hit Norway, it soon became clear that many workers would be laid off. In normal circumstances it is unlawful to claim unemployment benefit while in education or training. Due to COVID-19, this has been changed. From 20th April 2020 until 1 July 2021, anyone in education or training who does not already receive funds from the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund, is entitled to unemployment benefit if they otherwise qualify for this. This enables people who have been excluded from employment due to COVID-19 to spend their time on acquiring relevant and up-to-date knowledge. This is a good thing for the individual employee, for employers and for society at large. All types of courses, classes and training are covered by the scheme.

The Government upscaled the flexible education scheme in response to the coronavirus crisis. For example, a funding pot of NOK 100 million was made available to educational institutions that were able to quickly upscale courses that could be made available online for the unemployed and for laid-off workers.

In 2021, the Government has allocated a total of NOK 132 million to subsidise flexible education initiatives. The funds will be advertised by Skills Norway and the Norwegian Agency for International Cooperation and Quality Enhancement in Higher Education (Diku).