Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to welcome you here to Geneva and to the ITU for this World Telecommunication Policy Forum, on the topic of IP Telephony.
ITU and the World Telecommunication Policy Forum
Back in 1992, when I represented Japan at the Geneva Additional Plenipotentiary Conference of the ITU, I had the opportunity to propose that the ITU create a Policy Forum to enable its members to examine policy issues of high current interest, in a flexible manner. At that time, the ITU was mainly known for dealing with technical matters in telecommunications. Many questioned whether there would be any role for ITU in discussing policy issues. Nine years later, at the start of what will be the third Policy Forum, I believe that the principle is now well-established that ITU can provide a suitable forum for the discussion of policy issues.
The topic of this meeting, as chosen by Council last summer, is IP Telephony. It is very suitable for us to discuss at the ITU, because it is the ITU that made IP Telephony possible by providing the basic platform of telecommunication and by numerous ITU’s standardization activities related to IP network.
Three key questions
IP telephony may be defined as the conveyance of voice, fax and related services, partially or wholly over packet-switched IP-based networks. IP Telephony is largely synonymous with Voice over IP.
The first question we might ask is: "why do we need a new network to carry telephone calls when we already have one – the public switched telephone network – which does the job very well indeed?"
A few examples from the country case studies we have commissioned for this event help to illustrate the significance of IP Telephony:
A second question that arises is: "why the big fuss over a new technology which provides what is, essentially, an old service?" There are two related reasons for believing that IP Telephony represents something new and something very significant for the ITU membership:
Finally, a third question we should ask ourselves: "what does IP Telephony mean for developing countries?"
For many developing countries, which form the majority of ITU Member States, IP Telephony poses a dilemma:
We hope to achieve a rough consensus, over the next three days, on how to face the challenges posed by IP Telephony and to seize the opportunities presented by it.
Preparing for the future
The Plenipotentiary Conference, by Resolution 101, called upon the ITU to "fully embrace the opportunities for telecommunication development that arise from the growth of IP-based services". In choosing the topic of IP Telephony, Council has shown that it is ready to do this. But the word "embrace" should not be misunderstood.
The ITU is not looking to "regulate" IP Telephony, nor to place boundaries around its growth, but rather to build a common understanding of the technology and to assess the implications it holds for our membership. In particular, in seeking to draft opinions, we will be trying to identify ways in which the membership of the Union can work together to prepare for the transition to IP-based networks and to meet the human resource development challenges that the transition poses.
Starting the discussions
The Policy Forum is very different from usual ITU meetings:
As we start our discussions, I would encourage you to recall the special nature of this meeting, to discuss policy, and to avoid the temptation to revert to an oversized technical study group or a drafting session.
I am looking forward to some stimulating discussions, some innovative thinking and some co-operative actions among our members. The strength of a "union" lies in the sense of unity and common purpose among its membership. Let us show over the next three days that the International Telecommunication community is indeed a "Union".
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