Press Note

World Policy Telecommunication Forum
Geneva, 2123 October 1996

21 October 1996


The ITU's first World Telecommunication Policy Forum opened today, welcoming some 1000 delegates from more than 126 countries to discuss the development and implementation of global mobile satellite systems.

These new systems, known collectively as GMPCS (Global Mobile Communications by Satellite), but often called Big and Little LEO satellites, represent the new wave of personal telephony, promising seamless global mobile fax, messaging, data and even two-way voice and broadband multimedia connectivity via small, handheld phonesets, computer-mounted terminals and laptops. Most systems are scheduled to come into operation within the next five years, and will be able to offer service to people the world over, regardless of the local telecommunications infrastructure.

The Policy Forum will deliberate over three days, with the hope of reaching a government-industry consensus on achieving common international approaches to a range of issues including licensing, equipment approvals, trans-border mobility of handsets, and the role of GMPCS technology in the developing world. Delegates to the event include high-level representatives of telecommunications administrations and telecommunications regulators, and CEOs and senior representatives from all the main players in the burgeoning satellite market.

Opening the Forum, ITU Secretary-General, Dr Pekka Tarjanne, spoke of the importance of this new technology, which he called' revolutionary', to the future of telecommunications around the world. He spoke of the telecommunications industry as the 'central nervous system' of what will soon be the largest industry sector in the world - information - and said that GMPCS would constitute a key component of the new global information infrastructure. He added that he did not see the ITU's role in the development of GMPCS as a that of a global regulator, 'a kind of global FCC' . Instead, he recommended that nations continue to work towards agreement on common approaches to common problems, facilitating development while at the same time obviating the need for new bureaucracy.

In his opening remarks to delegates on Monday morning, Forum Chairman, Mr Jonathan Parapak of Indonesia, urged delegates to engage in the widest possible discussion of the issues, in order to arrive a solid outcomes that will enable rapid development of this new industry for the benefit of all.

Presenting the Forum's only working document, the Secretary-General's Report on 'Policy and Regulatory Issues Raised by Global Mobile Personal Communications by Satellite', Dr Tarjanne said the ITU had worked hard to incorporate in the report all the different ideas contributed by ITU Member States and Sector Members. He added that there were three areas of unanimous agreement in the Contributions he had received. All stated that the Forum should:

The opening of the event was followed by four Keynote Addresses, designed to cover the four main areas of discussion of the Forum.

Giving the first of the addresses, Mr David Leive, Chairman of ITU Regulatory Colloquia and Senior Communications Counsel at Latham and Watkins, Washington, spoke of the scope for international co-operation in the globalization of telecommunications services. He emphasized the need for a 'road map' to establish GMPCS in a way that is both fair and effective, and went on to stress the importance of developing principles and mechanisms to ensure the efficient licensing of terminals on a global basis, as well as the free movement of GMPCS handsets. Finally, he pointed to the importance of meeting the particular and specific concerns of developing countries.

Delivering the second Keynote address, His Excellency, Mr Mohammed Gharazi, Minister of Posts, Telegraph and Telephone, Islamic Republic of Iran, talked about the dilemma facing telecommunications administrations, many of whom fear that uptake of GMPCS services may result in lower utilization of the public switched telephone network. He also touched upon the problem of radio frequency spectrum shortage in the development of GMPCS. This spectrum, he said, is a both a common heritage and "one of the most precious resources God has given us." He urged that GMPCS systems be planned, therefore, to benefit all people. "Developing and Least Developed countries must be included and be able to share in this technology. Today the world is interlinked, and there must be no discrimination against any country. This technology must reach the four corners of the world - a formidable task, but an important one for the development of a truly global family," he said.

Speaking as the third Keynoter, Mr Kazuo Yoshida, President, Satellite Phone, Japan, addressed ways of achieving trans-border use of GMPCS terminals. He highlighted the need to streamline regulations and modify existing arrangements which can require a user to pay customs duty on a handset brought into the country for personal use, or can forbid the use of the handset altogether. He said the conflict between the desires of regulators to monitor GMPCS equipment in the same way as other types of telecommunications equipment, and the desires of users, who want more mobility and freedom and fewer bureaucratic restrictions, would have to be reconciled if a way forward was to be found.

The final Keynote Speaker was Mr Abderrazak Berrada, Special Adviser to the PTT Morocco, a figure well-known to the international telecommunication community through his many years of work with the ITU. Mr Berrada spoke on the necessity of arriving at equitable conditions of access to GMPCS technology on a global basis. He stated that, in his opinion, it would be important to keep a level of international regulation within the ITU, for the benefit of all countries, particularly those who might not have the resources to properly regulate the conduct of operators. He further added that, as the world moved towards market liberalization and the introduction of competition into monopoly markets, the ITU's approach at the WTPF would serve as a guide for the continuing process of globalization of telecommunications.

The remainder of the first day of the Forum was spent debating the content of the Secretary-General's report, with general consensus being the order of the day. Day 2 of the three-day event will focus specifically on discussion of the draft Opinions contained in that report.


The opening of the World Telecommunication Policy Forum was preceded by a special all-day Information Session on Sunday 20 October.

Chaired by ITU Deputy Secretary-General, Dr Henry Chasia, the Session was designed to broaden understanding of GMPCS systems and afford the opportunity for an exchange of views on key issues.

In his opening remarks to the floor, Dr Chasia said the Session would provide a very valuable opportunity for an informal discussion about GMPCS, and urged delegates to take advantage of the opportunity to pose questions to GMPCS operators. "This podium is literally bursting with expertise about this industry. Let's take advantage of it today," he said.

He also extended his thanks to those ITU Member States and ITU Sector Members which made financial contributions to fund the Information Session, and whose contributions were also used to sponsor a fellowship programme which enabled delegates from Least Developed countries to participate in the Forum.

During the Session, satellite operators and would-be operators had the opportunity to present their systems and discuss the ways they can benefit users, and to attempt to alleviate the fears some administrations have about the effect of new types of satellite technologies on existing services. The afternoon saw two panel debates on the respective topics of Reducing Barriers for the Early Introduction of GMPCS, and Licensing and Regulation of GMPCS.

Panel 1, moderated by Ms Irene Albers of the Ministry of Transport, Telecommunications and Post, the Netherlands, saw some lively discussion both within the panel and from the floor, as delegates expressed their concerns about pricing, the feasibility of GMPCS technology in countries with underdeveloped infrastructure, and the necessity of a commitment to continuity of service by operators in the developing world.

GMPCS operators in turn stressed the 'egalitarian' nature of this new technology, which, by its system design, offers the same services, and same quality of service, everywhere in the world. They spoke of the potential of GMPCS systems to bridge the gap in the developing world, allowing nations to overcome the tyranny of distance or economics and to have access to a sophisticated global communications system regardless of their own telecommunications infrastructure.

Panel II, moderated by M. Roberto Blois of CITEL (the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission), focused on the regulatory environment needed to foster the growth of new kinds of satellite technologies. Whilst panel members acknowledged the need for a re-think of regulations governing licensing, operation, equipment type approvals and movement across borders, representatives from telecommunications administrations were cautious on some issues. Ms Valerie D' Costa of the Telecommunication Authority of Singapore stressed the complexity of certain issues for example, that equipment type approvals and the licensing of that equipment were two separate issues and should be dealt with separately. She also stressed the complexity of terminal equipment licensing and urged operators to understand the concerns and priorities of regulators, and to work with them in developing appropriate procedures.

The Forum will continue until Wednesday 23 October, when delegates hope to have arrived at a broad consensus that will permit operators to initiate the process of international licensing which will pave the way toward GMPCS system implementation.

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