The main mission of ITU is to connect the
world to fulfil everyone’s fundamental
right to communicate. ITU estimates
that there will be 5 billion mobile phone
subscriptions at the end of 2010 and close to
2 billion people using the Internet. How would
you describe this progress? What challenges
and opportunities lie ahead to connect the
unconnected, and why is broadband so
Houlin Zhao: It will be a marvellous achievement
for global telecommunication development
when mobile phone subscriptions hit the 5-billion
mark. However, this does not mean that 5 billion
people will each have a mobile phone. According
to ITU’s market analysis, penetration figures do not
equate exactly to the number of actual users of mobile
phones, because one person may have more
than one subscription or SIM card. The critical problem
is that most of the people who have not yet got
a mobile phone cannot easily be connected.
Compared with mobile phone connections, Internet
access is lagging far behind. There is also a
huge gap between the level of broadband connections
in developing countries and the level in developed
countries. By the end of 2009, according to ITU
figures, the fixed (wired) broadband penetration rate
of developing countries stood at only 3.5 per cent,
up from around one per cent in 2003. While these
figures refer to broadband subscriptions rather than
users (and one subscription is likely to benefit several
users), they are a good indication of where we are
Clearly, there is still a big challenge ahead of us.
To improve this situation, we will have to invest in
the rural and remote areas where most of the people
who are not connected generally live. We need
to provide proper services to people with disabilities
and to socially disadvantaged groups. We will also
have to invest in cities in order to upgrade networks
to provide better services to the public. In improving
our services, we have to work with green technologies,
and this will require financial resources too.
In short, we need to mobilize public and private
resources to continue to invest in the development of
information and communication technologies (ICT).
The Broadband Commission for Digital Development,
jointly launched by the Secretary-General of ITU and
the Director-General of the United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO),
will contribute to this process, promoting the use of
high-speed broadband communication networks
worldwide to help accelerate the achievement of the
Millennium Development Goals.
What trends and issues are emerging
today in the telecommunication and ICT
sector that you feel will have an impact
on ITU? And how should ITU respond in
order to remain relevant as the global institution
for ICT matters, serving its governmental and
private sector members?
Houlin Zhao: The future development of ICT
markets will play an important role. The liberalization
of ICT markets and the privatization of telecommunication
services have changed many things
both inside the ICT business world and outside. The
public now enjoys many new ICT services, and world
economic systems have profited greatly from the
contributions of ICT. These changes will continue. So
ITU itself will have to change in order to cope with
these changes. PP-10 will provide an excellent opportunity for ITU to listen to the proposals and guidance
from its Member States and Sector Members.
The ICT world is changing rapidly. To
increase ITU’s Sector membership will
be key in broadening and strengthening
the Union so that it continues to meet
the needs of a burgeoning ICT market. In what
ways can ITU’s membership system be enhanced
to attract and welcome new members from all
branches of ICT — from traditional players to
new market entrants — while retaining existing
members across its three Sectors?
Houlin Zhao: Member States form the solid
base of ITU. So ITU must listen to their opinions
and suggestions, while strengthening consultation
and cooperation with them. Sector Members
are of course playing an increasingly important role
in the global ICT industry, and ITU shall seek more
opportunities to raise their status in the Union and
further enhance the strategic partnership between
Member States and Sector Members. One of ITU’s
strategic goals for the next four years will be to look
for more members from the private sector.
ITU is very proud of the fact that from the time
of its founding, administrations representing governments
have coexisted with industry members.
Among intergovernmental organizations, ITU still remains
unique today in having such a large number
of its members from the private sector. In view of
the growth of the ICT industry worldwide, ITU now
needs to attract as members traditional or new ICT
companies whose activities are within the competence
In 2012, ITU will hold a World
(WRC-12), a World Telecommunication
Standardization Assembly (WTSA-12),
and a World Conference on International
Telecommunications (WCIT-12). What are the
key issues to be discussed, and what are their
implications for the future role of ITU?
Houlin Zhao:These major events will cover
many issues, ranging from 4G technologies,
and satellites to three-dimensional television or 3D
TV (in the case of WRC-12); convergence of ICT technologies
and services (in the case of WTSA-12); and
international regulations for operational and tariff issues
in telecommunications, which are of concern to
the entire ITU membership (in the case of WCIT-12).
To hold these events successfully will no doubt
strengthen ITU’s leading role as the world’s most enduring
telecommunication/ICT institution. However,
more importantly, the successes of those three conferences
will have a profound influence on modern
human society for the next decade or two.
In 2015, the United Nations General
Assembly will assess the implementation
of both the Millennium Development
Goals (MDGs) and the outcomes of the
World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).
How important is this assessment for ITU? And
what role should ITU play in the run-up to that
Houlin Zhao: The outcomes of WSIS are aligned
with the MDGs, so it is important for the ICT
world to review progress now, as 2010 is the midpoint
between 2005, when the WSIS targets were
set, and 2015, the target year for achieving the
MDGs and delivering on the WSIS targets.
With the rapid development of ICT services over
the past five years, we are confident that many of
the WSIS targets could be achieved in time or even
in advance. The WSIS Forum held in May 2010 and
the WTDC-10 held in May/June have helped us to
understand where we are today. Some countries
have already achieved many of their targets, while
others are still struggling. Measuring progress towards achieving the WSIS targets is, however, an extremely
complex task. We are therefore working to
develop a powerful WSIS stocktaking database that
will provide project information without duplication.
The number of entries at the time of WSIS Forum
2010 was nearing 5000, demonstrating the commitment
of stakeholders to building the information society
and achieving the WSIS targets and MDGs.
Exchanging information not only makes implementation
more efficient, but also can create new
opportunities for building partnerships. I am sure
that the WSIS stocktaking platform will help create
partnerships, along with providing greater visibility
and added value to projects around the world.
A high-level meeting of the United Nations General
Assembly, in which ITU will participate, is scheduled
to take place in mid-September 2010 to review
implementation of the MDGs. ITU will seize opportunities
offered by events of other organizations (such
as the UN General Assembly) to demonstrate its leadership
in respect of ICT development. In so doing,
ITU will help to strengthen collective efforts and partnerships
for the push to achieve the MDGs by 2015.
What will be your main priorities in the
next four years?
Houlin Zhao: Among other priorities,
I would highlight a few special
to further strengthen ITU’s leading position in the global ICT industry;
to further strengthen ITU’s relevance to global ICT markets and the private sector;
to further improve the efficiency and transparency of ITU;
to study the new strategic issues emerging from the development of ICT, and look for measures that ITU could take, if relevant, to address them.
ITU’s “federal” structure — made
up of the General Secretariat, the
Radiocommunication Sector, the
Sector and the Telecommunication Development
Sector — requires collaboration and team
spirit. What do you view as the fundamental
components of successful teamwork?
Houlin Zhao: In order to combat the many challenges
it faces and to meet the expectations of
its members, ITU shall be led by a strong and energetic
leadership. With a federal structure and five elected
officials, it is obviously very important for ITU’s top
management to work together as a team. The same
spirit of teamwork should also prevail at lower management
levels and among the staff as a whole.
The post of Deputy Secretary-General has a strategic
importance to ITU. I am fully committed to assisting
the Secretary-General and cooperating with the
other elected officials to ensure the successful implementation
of ITU’s strategic plan and other tasks.
It is often said that good people are
the backbone of any high-performing
business activity or organization.
What is your message to staff with
whom the Deputy Secretary-General will work to
implement the strategic plan and goals that will
be approved by the Plenipotentiary Conference
for the period 2012–2015, within the budget that
will also be decided by this conference for the
Houlin Zhao: An ever-increasing workload coupled
with severe resource constraints have put
constant pressure on ITU in carrying out its daily tasks.
ITU staff are an asset for the success of the organization,
and I am very proud of them. I will continue to
contribute to an environment in which the optimum
skill and potential of all staff can be realized. This will,
ultimately, bring maximum benefit to ITU.