The economy is on the threshold of a fourth industrial revolution. Driven by the Internet, through a digital transformation process the real and virtual worlds are becoming increasingly intertwined and together form an Internet of Things. Digitalisation represents an historic change for industry and the service economy. The collective term Industry 4.0 embraces solutions, processes and technologies and describes the extensive use of IT and a high degree of system networking in factories. Many German companies are fast moving down the path to Industry 4.0, which in particular advances digitalisation in the areas of production engineering and logistics. Overall, industry is expecting ever intense international competition for leadership in technology. The Federal Government is promoting and actively shaping digital change, and to this end has established a Digital Agenda covering seven fields for action. It embraces all areas of society: government, industry, culture, education and science. Digital change is regarded not as purely technological, but as a social process that addresses questions of freedom and democracy, down to the protection of individuals.
In the medium term, the Digital Agenda is intended to make Germany the leading provider of Industry 4.0 and the number-one digital growth country in Europe. In positive scenarios, studies estimate additional economic growth potential from Industry 4.0 of between 200 and 425 billion euros by 2025. As a cross-cutting technology, the information and communications technology (ICT) sector plays a key role here. Today as much as 23 percent of growth in productivity can be traced to investment in ICT. 900,000 employees generate sales of 228 billion euros, making Germany the fourth-largest market after the USA, Japan and China, and the largest ICT market in Europe.
The development of the digital infrastructure, in particular of broadband Internet access, is regarded as one of the key tasks to drive digitalisation. The aim is to create a nationwide broadband infrastructure with a download speed of at least 50 Mbit/s by 2018. The Federal Government and industry have put together an extensive 10-billion-euro broadband expansion package. That said, 87 percent of private households already have broadband access. Nonetheless there continue to be differences in broadband coverage between old and new federal states, and between cities and rural areas. In 2015 broadband Internet with a speed of at least 50 Mbit/s, for the most part via landline, is available for almost two thirds of all households (64 percent). Connections with over 50 Mbit/s are available for four out of five (82 percent) households in cities, and for every fifth household (20 percent) in rural districts. The wireless communication standard LTE reaches 92 percent of households.