Finland stood out as the top country for information and communications technology (ICT), according to February's European Commission Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI).
Relatively speaking, Finland's ICT sector is bigger than that of its European peers – and no country can match the Finns for advanced IT skills.
It is a country where 2.2% of graduates under 30 hold a degree in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, compared with 1.9% in Denmark and 1.6% in Germany.
Finland uses the cloud more than any other European country – and ranks fourth in the world when it comes to entrepreneurship and opportunity, according to the Legatum Institute.
So why does Finland lead in ICT? Two main reasons stand out.
The first lies in Nokia's impact. Today's workforce grew up inspired as Finnish-made mobiles conquered the world.
“Nokia’s success showed that everything is possible in ICT innovation – and in Finland,” said Heikki Hämmäinen, professor of communications and networking at Helsinki's Aalto University.
“After the troubles of Nokia’s mobile phone business, a strong startup mentality in ICT has emerged rapidly, for senior experts and university graduates alike.”
Read more about IT in Finland
- According to a December 2014 Eurostat study, Finland has the highest take-up of cloud services in Europe, and other Nordic countries are close behind.
- Microsoft is to design and build its next datacentre in Finland. The new facility, costing over $250m (£161m), will be used to serve Microsoft customers in Europe.
- Taneli Tikka has an unusual job description. As head of industrial internet at Tieto Corporation, the largest IT services provider in the Nordics, he is not only leading on the company’s key growth areas, but is managing it as a startup.
A more in-depth explanation for Finland's ICT excellence centres on its quick thinking during the communications boom of the 1980s – and the ICT infrastructure it developed as the country sought to exploit its own ICT breakthroughs.
As an EU latecomer, Finland had been experimenting with non-standard internet technologies, such as TCP/IP, without the regulatory pressure to conform to the ISO/OSI standard used by the EU. So Finland actually helped build the practical internet – and the country began surfing quickly.
The country also saw early adoption of mobile. Finland, along with other Nordic countries, pioneered early mobile breakthroughs such as the analog network and the international roaming mechanism. It later pioneered 3G.
So there is Finnish DNA in the modern communication channels, but the country keeps the lifeblood flowing with an infrastructure that nurtures and promotes ICT from the ground up.
“Combining our internet and mobile competences has spun the creation of many kinds of ICT service innovations,” said Hämmäinen. “Co-operation between government, universities and companies has been successful, especially in the ICT sector, and this has created many job opportunities.”
Professional collaboration in Finland is supported by public policy that not only stimulates enterprise, but promotes universal connectivity.
Laura Vilkkonen, policy director at the Finnish transport and communications ministry, said: “Despite a sparse population and a small communications market, Finland is able to provide communication services that are inexpensive and represent high standards. In international statistics, the minimum speed for broadband connections is usually 256kb/s, but in Finland, the typical broadband connection speed is 10Mb/s.”
The DESI found that Finland, despite its awkward geography, has broadband in 97% of all homes.
Vilkkonen cites Finland's highly regarded education system, investment in infrastructure and focus on research and development as reasons behind the country's ICT prowess.
“But above all, there is a strong desire to be excellent,” she said.
And Nokia's legacy has helped shape that desire. So confident is contemporary Finland in its entrepreneurial excellence, that it is the single biggest investor in its own economy: nearly half of all funding to Finnish companies comes from within.