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WTDC-14 Highlights: High-Level Dialogue

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High-Level Dialogue

Issue N°1, Dubai, 29 March 2014  

The Imminence of the "Internet of Things"

Delegates attending ITU's sixth quadrennial World Telecommunications Development Conference now in session in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates have been given a probing glimpse of a brave new digital world in which "data is the new oil, broadband is the pipeline, and mobile devices are the cars".

Speaking at an ITU Executive Strategic Dialogue on Broadband for Sustainable Development held on 29 March 2014 on the eve of the WTDC-14 opening ceremony, futurist Gerd Leonard told an audience of government ICT Ministers, regulators and ICT industry executives that broadband connectivity will soon be regarded as a daily necessity like water, electricity and even the very air we breathe.

"Wearing computing will probably become as common as smart phones," Mr. Leonard forecast. Noting that massive global broadband growth was imminent, he predicted that Facebook drones will soon be in competition with Google balloons to spread Internet access as the service provider landscape evolves. "We will also have to think about how to ensure a 'balanced lifestyle' to remain human and connected. Broadband should not just grow GNP but also GNH – Gross National Happiness," he concluded.

In his opening remarks, ITU Telecommunications Development Bureau Director Brahima Sanou echoed some of the futurist's predictions: "Broadband is transforming the way we communicate and is introducing new ways of doing things in our personal lives. In the past few years, we have experienced the spectacular rise of mobile broadband, which is bringing Internet access to more people than ever before, and which continues to show the fastest growth of any technology in human history. There is no doubt that broadband is key to socio-economic development," Mr Sanou said.

"However, despite the progress achieved, we know that there are still 4.4 billion people who are not yet online and who cannot take advantage of the benefits offered by broadband. Therefore, we still have the huge challenge of bridging the broadband divide, by exploring, debating and innovating the best ways to reinforce impact related to deploying broadband infrastructure and making broadband based services and applications affordable. I do not doubt that the impact of broadband is significantly reinforced by the power of the mobile revolution. With more than 6.8 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, we need, now more than ever, to join forces to empower people – no matter where they live -  and contribute to socio-economic development," Mr Sanou noted. "This is the main objective of the M-Powering Development initiative which aims to capitalize on the availability of mobile networks to strengthen economies and offer new opportunities to improve health, education, agriculture, trade and commerce," he concluded.

BBC journalist Karen Bowerman moderated a debate on broadband development with a high-level group of panelists that included Mr. John Nasasira, Minister of Information and Communications Technology (Uganda); Mr. Mohamed Nasser Al Ghanim, Director General, Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (UAE); Mr. Jong-lok Yoon, Vice Minister, Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (Republic of Korea); Ms. Kathryn C. Brown, Chief Executive Officer, Internet Society; Mr. Samer Halawi, Chief Executive Officer, Thuraya; Mr. Luigi Gambardella, Chairman of Executive Board, European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association; and Ms. Lobna Smida, a Tunisian policy expert in ICT accessibility for persons with disabilities.

The meeting provided a platform for an interactive debate on the trends, challenges and opportunities of the telecomunications and ICT sector. In particular, it focused on strategies and policies directed towards global roll-out of broadband, while discussing the challenges and opportunities offered via high-speed networks and e-services. 

Ms. Smida called on manufacturers and service providers to do more to enable persons with disabilities to benefit from ICTs so that they can contribute more fully to society and lead more fulfilling and meaningful lives: "We need to make sure the voice of the disabled is being heard and appropriate action accompanies the words of the Hyderabad Declaration, The gulf is widening between the disabled and the rest of the community. Life is not getting easier and ICT has the potential to change the lives of so many disabled people,"

ITU Secretary-General Dr. Hamadoun I. Touré recalled ITU's commitment to make ICTs accessible for persons with disabilities. He also echoed the words of Mr. Leonard that the main purpose of ICT development is to bring happiness to peoples' lives.

ITU launches satellite connectivity project for Small Island Developing States

Leading government representatives from Small Island Developing States have praised a "visionary" ITU satellite project designed to increase their disaster preparedness and response capabilities and to help them meet their development goals through greater and more reliable connectivity.  

The project, launched on 29 March 2014 on the eve of the WTDC-14 opening ceremony in Dubai (United Arab Emirates), will initially be piloted in 11 Small Island Developing States (SIDS) of the Pacific Island sub-region. If successful, it will be replicated elsewhere, according to the most urgent needs.

At the launch, ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau Director Brahima Sanou stated that connectivity in SIDS has been recognized by the ITU as of high importance to support efforts by these countries to fully integrate into the global economy and to strengthen their disaster preparedness and response capacities.

"The objective is to develop low-cost, reliable, and diverse satellite capacity for the socio-economic development of the Pacific Islands region. This is the first time ITU has embarked on such an ambitious project.  Now we need to work together to identify the key issues and best practices ITU can use should other regions wish to replicate the same project," Mr. Sanou noted.

To get the best return on investment, the same telecommunications/ICT infrastructure and resources will be used for emergency communications to ensure public safety and save lives in the event of a natural disaster. Since terrestrial networks are easily disrupted by disasters owing to their vulnerability, satellites are the preferred means of communication in such circumstances.

The project in the 11 initially selected beneficiary countries is expected to enable the establishment of some 55 e-centres facilitating access to a host of e-services ranging from e-health to e-government and e-learning. These centres will serve around 100 communities in rural and remote areas and undertake the training of 100 e-centre operators and the development of network management systems and ICT services.

SIDS have particular needs for them to join the global information society linked for the most part to their remoteness and inaccessibility, lack of resources, high communication costs, small populations, fragile environments, exposure to recurrent natural disasters and the adverse impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels.

The panel of speakers was composed of Ms. Massoundi Bahiat, Minister of Post and Communications, Comoros;  Mr. Beniamina Rimeta, Minister of Communications, Transport and Tourism Development, Kiribati; Mr. Reginald Bourne, Chief Telecommunication Officer, Barbados; Mr. Jim Miringtoro, Minister for Information and Communication Technology, Papua New Guinea; Mr. Louis Casandra, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Information and Communication Technology Office of the Philippines; and ITU Secretary-General Dr. Hamadoun I. Touré. 

All stressed the importance of reliable satellite-based communications for early warning alerts and the coordination of effective disaster relief operations. During a debate moderated by Mr. Cosmas Zavazava, Chief of ITU's Project Support and Knowledge Management Department, the panellists also explored the main connectivity issues in their respective countries and hailed the ITU satellite project as a "visionary" step forward in integrating them more fully into the global information society.

The project manager, Ms. Gisa Fuatai Purcell, noted that between 2010 and 2012 disaster impacts had affected 2.9 billion people and had resulted in 1.2 million deaths and 1.7 trillion USD in economic losses.

Ms. Purcell recalled that Article 40 of the ITU Constitution addresses the "priority of telecommunications concerning safety of life" and that various ITU resolutions adopted over the past few years had cemented ITU's commitment to improving connectivity in SIDS.

The satellite project was launched based on the following findings of an ITU study of the main connectivity challenges in Pacific Island States conducted in 2013:   

The satellite connectivity pilot project will initially cover the following 11 Pacific Island countries: Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.  It will be implemented in stages and is expected to be completed in 2017.

ITU Secretary-General Dr. Hamadoun I. Touré pointed out that several SIDS were in the process of graduating from least developed to developed country status and that they should be accompanied during this transition phase to ensure they do not regress after the withdrawal of assistance they qualified for under their former status.

"Genuine and durable partnerships are at the heart of ITU's work to assist Small Island Developing States in achieving sustainable social and economic development through the use of telecommunications and ICTs to bridge the digital divide," Mr. Sanou said, adding that the third international conference on SIDS to be held in Apia, Samoa in September 2014 will provide further opportunity to discuss connectivity development in these countries.

The high-level panel for this forum on SIDS connectivity was composed of Ms. Massoundi Bahiat, Minister of Post and Telecommunications, Comoros, who gave a comprehensive account of the connectivity status and related challenges in her country; Mr. Beniamina Rimeta, Minister of Communications, Transport and Tourism, Kiribati; Mr. Darcy W. Boyd, Minister of Telecommunication, Barbados; Mr.Jim Miringtoro, Minister for Information and Communication Technology, Papua New Guinea; and Mr. Louis N Casambre, Director of the lnformation and Communications Technology Office of the Department of Science and Technology, Philippines, who gave an account of the communications challenges in relation to the emergency relief operation in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) which ravaged parts of the Philippines in 2013.

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