The world’s most advanced digital society – Estonia

Estonia is the fastest growing and most advanced digital economy in Europe. Six years after gaining independence from Russia in 1991, Estonia had put 97% of its schools online. By 2000, Cabinet meetings were paperless. In 2002 the Government had established eResidency, and a free Wi-Fi network covering most of the populated areas. The country has pioneered digital signatures, border queue management, international student admissions, e-business registration, mobile banking apps, new forms of crowd-funding, brands without logos, and easy access to healthcare facilities to empower and benefit its citizens.

e-Estonia means a land without queues or lines, voting in elections from your own living room, filing your income tax return in just five minutes, signing a legally-binding contract over the Internet from anywhere in the world via your mobile phone, and checking vital company, property and legal records online. These are just a few of the services that Estonians take advantage of on a regular basis. Interaction among government agencies, and between the government and citizens, has been completely transformed in e-Estonia, making bureaucracy virtually a thing of the past, the running of all levels of government more efficient, and communities better, it is claimed.

This transformation has resulted in:-

  • Unprecedented levels of transparency and accessibility in government
  • Safe, convenient and flexible exchanges of private, government and corporate data
  • A healthier, better educated population with good access to social services
  • A prosperous environment for business and entrepreneurship

The e-Estonia digital society is made possible largely due to its infrastructure. Instead of developing a single, all-encompassing central system, Estonia created an open, decentralized system that links together various services and databases. The flexibility provided by this open set-up has allowed new components of the digital society to be developed and added through the years. It is that power to expand that has allowed Estonia to grow into one of Europe’s success stories of the last decade.


“The disruptive innovation from Estonians is thus not technology itself, the innovation lies elsewhere – in the process of bringing businesses and government together to help all people, young and old, to benefit from digital services options available. Already for 17 years, Estonians have a digital ID and can use this to sign and time stamp documents, including private contracts, apply for different public services, pay fines and taxes, query the registries, change their services packages and simply send encrypted e-mails. Digital ID is an integral part of all ID cards, since 2001. Digital identity is created at birth, by the way, automatically and in the background when a doctor enters the details of a birth into medical records, without the doctor hitting one additional button to undertake this task. They are a civil registry manager, but they do not even notice. The parents can then later on, using their own IDs, add a name to the baby with an already created e-identity. They can then start applications for social services and kindergarten places if they wish, from their maternity hospital room. A new digital citizen is born. We save 2% of our GDP by never visiting any public office and we have very few bank offices left in the country. Postal ones have been replaced by automatic delivery lockers, too. A delivery announcement is routinely an sms. You may notice – I am here not talking anymore of public service. The laziness of people to go and queue allows businesses to save huge costs by offering digital, automated solutions without facing the risk of losing their client base.” Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid.

Estonia will be holding the Presidency of the EU Council in the second half of this year.

Related/of interest

‘A trip to the Faroe Islands, located between the Shetlands and Iceland, revealed something more ambitious and successful. There, 98% 4G LTE coverage is backed up by an islands-wide fibre network. Coverage extends out to the 200 mile fishing limit – to include the Faroese fishing fleet and passing cruise ships – and also a mile up in the air to cover helicopter routes.

Faroese Telecom provides the world’s best mobile broadband. According to Chief Executive Jan Ziskasen, “In South Korea, allegedly the world’s number one spot for 4G connectivity, the average speed is about 60Mbps. We are in the process of overtaking that as the average speed here is approaching 100Mbps. Once we launch the 800MHz – a long-range frequency – the islands will have a theoretical speed just below 1Gbps and that truly is speed in your pocket.” The population of the Faroes is 49,000 people.’

Lesley Riddoch: The UK Government has failed on Broadband – here’s how to fix it.



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