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GSMA Mobile World Congress: Session on the Economic & Social Value of Mobile
Barcelona, Spain
13 February 2008

Opening Remarks by ITU Secretary General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré


Mr. Chairman,

Ladies & Gentlemen,

Distinguished Guests and Participants

 

It is my honour and privilege to be invited here to address you today. Through its analysis and research, ITU has long monitored the pulse of the telecommunication industry. Over the past fifteen years, the world has witnessed the transformation of telephony markets to become mobile, competitive and mostly privately-owned – developments we anticipated and tracked in our renowned World Telecommunication Development Report series.


Strong growth in mobile

In 2002, we passed the milestone of mobile phones outnumbering fixed-line telephones and in August last year, we surpassed the milestone of three billion mobile phone subscriptions. Now, one in two of the world’s inhabitants has access to a mobile phone.

At the Geneva Phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2003, world leaders and governments agreed on a set of international goals for connectivity to be achieved by 2015. ICTs are a key means of achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and making up the substantial shortfalls to achieving the MDGs that still persist, before 2015.

Today, mobile telephony represents the best tool for meeting the WSIS targets set by world leaders, thanks to investments and efforts by governments and mobile operators alike around the world. More importantly, new applications that use the power or mobile telephony – such as m-banking, telediagnosis and SMS alerts – are helping people to improve their lives for the better. The power of communications cannot be understated. Investment is the engine that is driving this mobile revolution.

 

Mobile industry investment in developing markets

The mobile market continues to invest heavily in the roll-out of new infrastructure and new services. For example, the GSM Association predicts that investment in mobile communications in sub-Saharan Africa alone will be worth some US$50 billion over the next five years (on top of the US$35 billion already committed to the region). This will make a significant impact, in bridging the digital divide.

One area where new investment is yielding tangible results is the success achieved by 3G (IMT) mobile operators. By the end of 2007, 3G networks had been launched in 108 countries, with some 812 million 3G subscribers worldwide. One in every four mobile subscriber is now using a 3G device, and taking advantage of the much richer range of services that it brings.

 

Universal Service Funds

Many governments have established universal service funds from levies paid by operators (for example: Chile, Nepal, Egypt, Guatemala, Uganda and Peru). The Universal Access Report published by the GSMA estimated that 15 of 32 universal service funds have collected more than US$ 6 billion in total from the industry - of which one third or US$ 2.1 billion has come from mobile operators. However, barely a quarter (US$ 1.6 billion) has actually been disbursed for network expansion. The remaining 73% (US$ 4.4 billion) remained unallocated at the time of the survey.

 

Multiplier Effects of Mobile Investment for the Economy

Investment in mobile offers significant benefits with strong multiplier effects for the national economy:

  • According to the GSM Association’s pioneering studies in East Africa, the mobile industry as a whole can contribute as much as 3.5-5% to total GDP.
  • Further, a 10% increase in mobile penetration could result in a 1.2% increase in the annual growth rate in GDP.

It is therefore vital to ensure that funds that are collected for the purpose of universal access are re-invested promptly.

 

Enabling Environment & Network-Sharing

Through its annual regulatory survey, ITU has tracked the transformation of the industry to become increasingly competitive and privately-owned. ITU monitors these trends in its renowned annual Trends in Telecommunication Reform series.

By 2006, three-quarters of all mobile markets worldwide were subject to competition. Competition between existing operators and new entrants has helped stimulate fresh investment, led to the introduction of new services and improved customer service.

In light of credit and investment constraints, ITU foresees fresh impetus for infrastructure-sharing agreements. Such infrastructure-sharing enables operators to meet customer demand for faster speeds, wider coverage and greater capacity more cost-effectively.

One recent example is the agreement between “3”UK and T-Mobile (UK) to combine their 3G access networks (mobile masts and infrastructure), concluded in December 2007. Infrastructure-sharing is the subject of the eighth Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR) 2008, which ITU is organizing in collaboration with the Government of Thailand next month in March 2008. The eighth GSR will focus on innovative infrastructure-sharing and open access strategies to promote affordable access for all. Infrastructure-sharing is also the subject of the ninth edition of ITU’s Trends in Telecommunication Reform series, to be published in September 2008.

 

Connect Africa

To highlight the vital importance of investment in telecommunications, ITU convened the Connect Africa Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, in October 2007, attended by over a thousand participants. The focus in Kigali was not on aid or charity - no country has achieved long-term prosperity on this basis. Instead, there was broad consensus that fresh investment and business opportunities are needed to support sustainable growth, employment and development.

A total of 55 billion US dollars was pledged between now and 2012 to expand the broadband ICT networks in Africa from industry, development banks and others. Further important commitments were made in workforce training, policy and regulatory reform to support these investments.

 

ITU’s work in 3G & Radiocommunications

ITU continues its significant work in establishing the fundamental mechanics and radio-frequencies for telecommunication networks. If you hold a 3G handset in your hand, the chances are that standards approved at ITU enable you to browse the web, upload and transfer data privately and securely.

The World Radiocommunication Conference 2007 in Geneva was attended by over 2,800 delegates representing 164 Member States and 101 Observers. It resulted in revised Radio Regulations to meet the ever-growing demand for radio-frequency spectrum and secure the future of the wireless industry for many years to come.

At the Radiocommunication Assembly in October 2007, ITU brokered an international agreement to add WiMAX-based technologies to the IMT (3G) set of wireless standards, paving the way for the deployment of voice, data and multimedia services to stationary and mobile devices at higher speeds across wider areas. Significantly, this decision opens the door to wireless networks to areas that were previously too remote or too costly for carriers to reach. Following this agreement, “4G” radio technologies could be commercially available as early as 2011, subject to market demand.

 

TELECOM Events

This year, ITU looks forward to TELECOM Africa 2008 in Cairo, Egypt, in May 2008 and TELECOM Asia 2008 in Bangkok, Thailand. Next year, Geneva will welcome TELECOM World 2009 in October 2009. We would invite you to come and join us at these events, which explore the latest technologies and infrastructure solutions in deployment, future growth prospects, business strategies that have succeeded and much more. TELECOM events provide a wealth of opportunities for networking and forging business partnerships to promote trade and investment in telecommunications.

 

I would invite you to join with me in celebrating not only how far we have come, but how far we still have to travel together. ITU is both pleased and proud to join with the GSM Association in recognizing the pioneering work that our two organizations are carrying out to extend the benefits of mobile communications to as many people as possible around the world. This is a challenging task, but a rewarding one, and I would ask you to join with me in recognition of the success we have achieved together.

 

 

 

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