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Keynote address at the International Symposium on ICT and Innovation
Waseda University, Japan
23 March 2007

ITU Deputy Secretary-General Mr Houlin Zhao 

Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to join you at this International Symposium organized by the Waseda University. On behalf of the Secretary-General of ITU and on my own behalf, we would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you, Waseda University, on reaching your 125th birthday this year, and wish this Symposium a great success.

I have been asked to speak on the topic of “New Directions for ITU in the field of ICTs and innovation”. I am delighted to have a chance to address this topic as I have worked for the last two decades in ITU, serving as Director of the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau from 1998 2006 before my election as Deputy Secretary-General of ITU in November 2006. The year 2006 was very special not only because of my election but also because it marked the centenary anniversary of the ITU Radio Conference and the 50th anniversary of CCITT, which is called ITU-T now. ITU used to be composed of CCIF and CCIT in the 1920s. Thus, the terms of innovation and standardization are very close to my heart.

As you may be aware, the history of ITU stretches right back to 1865, when it was established as the International Telegraph Union. We are very proud of the fact that ITU has survived into the modern era as the oldest of all inter-governmental organisations. Throughout our history, ITU has been closely associated with innovation and the creation of new markets. For instance, the H-series work of video coding has created the basis for today’s multimedia products and services, while the X-series work on packet-switching has provided a basis for today’s high-speed data networks such as the Internet. More recently, ITU’s work on DSL standards has established a new market for broadband, with over 350 million subscribers worldwide. Furthermore, the concept of 3G originally started in ITU during the mid-1980s, while the allocation of spectrum for IMT-2000, which was originally made in 1992 and extended by WRC-2000, has created a new market for mobile broadband with more than 100 million subscribers worldwide. Thus, such technological innovation by or through the ITU has been creating valuable new market opportunities worldwide.

Telecommunications play an enormous role in our day-to-day lives. If there had been no ITU, no forms of telecommunication, whether fixed or mobile telephony, cable, DSL or modem-based Internet, would have been possible. Don’t underestimate what that would have meant. Without telecommunications, businesses would be brought to a halt, banks would not be able to transfer money, orders could not be placed, and air traffic control systems would fail. Telecommunications also have a vital role to play in emergency communications and disaster relief as well as being a crucial tool in international diplomacy. Simply, life without telecommunications is almost unimaginable. And as we have moved from fixed-line telephony into mobile telephony and the Internet, so has ITU’s work moved to accommodate and underpin these technologies that are becoming more and more important to the world economy.

These innovations are all part of a series of changes, which are sweeping through the ICT business – i.e., paradigm shifts from static to dynamic markets, from low-speed to high-speed networks, and from dedicated to convergence. One vision is to create a truly ubiquitous environment for communications and computing in which it is possible to connect “anytime, anywhere, by anything and anyone”. This vision was well taken from the chairman’s report of the WSIS Thematic Meeting on Ubiquitous Network Societies, which was held in Tokyo in May 2005 jointly-organized by the MIC Japan, ITU, and the United Nations University.

I remember that a promotion similar to this one appeared in the 1980s when ITU developed the concepts of ISDN, “IMTS” (Improved Mobile Telephone Service) and “Future Public Land Mobile Telecommunications System” (FPLMTS). Today, the roots of the so-called “4A vision” of ubiquity, in which dedicated IT devices become so omnipresent that they effectively disappear as information processing capabilities, become increasingly available. One early example of this is the fact that, globally, we reached two billion mobile phones in 2005 and will probably reach 3 billion before the end of this year. While mobile devices are numbered in billions, future computing and communication devices, based on RFID technology, will be numbered in trillions. This will enable the emergence of the so-called “Internet of Things”, in which the everyday objects all around us will be linked to the global network and will be able to be monitored and possibly controlled from a distance. Together with RFID, other technologies which will shape tomorrow’s market include: e.g.,

  • Sensor technologies, which not only detect environmental status but adapt to it or modify it;
  • Smart technologies, that enable intelligent systems to be built - for instance, around smart homes, smart vehicles, etc.; and
  • Nanotechnology, which is taking the process of miniaturization onto a new level.

As costs reduce, more and more intelligence will be embedded into the network. Indeed, the intelligent and adaptive network will increasingly simulate the five human senses. The concept of ubiquitous communications is also embedded into the idea of Next Generation Networks (NGN), which is the focus for much of ITU’s ongoing standards-making activities. One specific application of the NGN is the IPTV service which is available around the world, including here in Japan, to offer triple or quadruple play over the same access network. The promise of IPTV is to generate multiple revenue streams over the same network, and to deliver service, over an IP network, in a secure, managed and QoS-enabled manner. ITU has been working on these topics for some time.

In the Radiocommunication Sector, the major recent breakthrough was the agreement signed in June 2006 for the transition plan for digital broadcasting in Region 1 (Europe, Africa, Arab States and Iran). This should set a pattern for a global transition to digital terrestrial television. An important meeting, “World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) Conference Preparatory Meeting” was held in Geneva a few weeks ago. The outcomes of this meeting will guide the future work of WRC to be held in Geneva during October and November, this year. The results of WRC will have its influence on everyone’s life in the next two decades.

Since the Plenipotentiary Conference held in November 2006, a number of new areas of work have been launched, including a new Focus Group on Identity Management, while earlier in the year we held workshops on the Future of Voice, Market Mechanisms for Spectrum Allocation, and on the fully-networked car. In fact, according to the recent motor-show held in Geneva, technologies may be further innovated or converged in the markets of telecommunications, automobiles and environments.

One of the major priority areas in the coming period will be cybersecurity. ITU has been working on international coordination in this area since 2004 and on standardization in security for much longer. ITU was honoured by the WSIS to be invited to facilitate multi-stakeholder efforts to implement the WSIS outcomes in the field of “Building Confidence and Security in the use of ICTs”. We will work on multilingual Internet and any other new technologies to support access to ICTs by those including with disabilities, who cannot enjoy the ICT tools, as others can.

We can expect the networks of the 21st Century to be high-speed and high-capacity as well as to offer users the opportunity to switch easily between fixed and mobile platforms. Although different services will cover different geographical ranges, individual terminal devices will be increasingly able to shift seamlessly between them.

ITU will continue to be at the heart of the research and innovation process in the fields of telecommunications – now ICTs. ITU now has some 191 Member States, more than 650 Sector Members, and over 100 Associates. Among the ITU Members, the Japanese participation has always been remarkable over the long history of ITU. For a very long period, up to 1990s, the innovative contributions by the Japanese experts formed one of three pillars of ITU’s work: North America, Western Europe and Japan. Over the last two decades, with the arrival of Republic of Korea, China, and from the other Members of the Asia-Pacific Region, Japan still plays an important role in the ITU’s work on technical standardization and radiocommunication. Now, Japan has begun to contribute to the work of development in the ITU through contributions and participations not only by the MIC but also by private industries. Many Japanese experts, who have contributed to all Sectors of ITU, can consider ITU as their home and feel honored by being involved in ITU activities. I would like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to the Japanese experts and members of ITU.

Last but not least, ITU has always recognized the importance that Academia has in shaping the Information and Communications Technologies and the services of today. ITU wishes to strengthen the relationship it has with universities. The important role of education at the core of human progress, endeavour and well-being, as well as the valuable contribution to the information society by universities and academies have been widely recognized by the World Summit of Information Society (WSIS). With this in mind, ITU has taken measures to strengthen its cooperation with Academies, including a consultation meeting with universities held at ITU Headquarters mid-January this year. I am pleased with the links that have been established by Waseda University and ITU. I believe that it provides a model for other partnerships in this field between international organisations and academia.

I am delighted to say that we are continuing to enjoy as close cooperation as ever with the Japanese Government and Japanese organizations, including through the New ITU Association of Japan and the ITU-Waseda University ICT Research Centre. I am very pleased with the fact that MIC, Japan, has made new voluntary contributions to support ITU at the beginning of 2007. I look forward to discussing other collaborative opportunities with you in the near future.

Finally, I would like to express my sincere thanks to you Waseda University for your kind invitation to me. I wish every success to Waseda University and its Symposium in particular. Thank you.

 

 

 

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