Speech from Mr Houlin Zhao, ITU Deputy Secretary-General

CSTD 12th Session
Mobile Technology, Convergence & Social Networking Tools for Development & Poverty Eradication

Geneva, Switzerland
26 May 2009

I am very pleased to be here with you this morning to discuss such a vitally important subject as mobile technology and convergence.

As Dr. Touré highlighted in his statement yesterday, mobile technology is the technology with the greatest immediate promise of connecting the developing world, with some 4 billion people having access to a mobile, over half the world’s population by some estimates.  This is the first WSIS goal to have been achieved – we are close “to ensuring that more than half the world’s inhabitants have access to ICTs within their reach”.

Over two-thirds of these subscriptions are held in the developing world. Competition, new technologies and applications and flat-rate pricing models in the mobile market have allowed an ever greater number of people across the world to join the information society.

Between the end of 2005 and the beginning of this year, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions globally has grown at a stunning rate of over 20% year-on-year. The regions with the highest growth rates are the developing regions. Africa's annual average growth rate over the last three years stood at no less than 40%.

ITU has tracked the rise of mobile over the last fifteen years with our World Telecommunication Development Reports, the WTDR series. Together with our partners in industry, ITU and the Administrations have worked hard to transform the mobile industry through licensing and greater private sector involvement, and the mobile industry has become more competitive. ITU has promoted open-market policy and the development of effective regulation to facilitate market development, which has contributed to the successful growth of the mobile sector around the world.

This makes mobile telephony one of the success stories of the developing world and a technology of intense interest to all those working in development, who strive to reduce poverty and improve the lot of poorer people around the world.
Today, convergence is expanding the opportunities that mobile telephony has to offer to developing countries. Since the conclusion of the Second Phase of the WSIS in Tunis in 2005, the number of countries with IMT-2000/3G networks offering mobile broadband services has more than doubled, to some 110 countries today. ITU estimates that there are currently over 400 million mobile broadband subscribers.

Building on its work with IMT (3G) mobile technologies, ITU is working on new-generation mobile IMT-Advanced technologies and low-power, energy-efficient mobile technologies. Much of the standardization work involved in ensuring inter-operable communication technologies has been carried out at ITU.

Although some developed countries have led the way, where more people access the Internet over their mobile phone than over fixed Internet connections, other countries are fast catching up. Now, African countries are showing us just what can be achieved using mobile banking services, money transfer of electronic currencies and micro-credit payments, as well as public health text messages. Some of the most exciting and innovative applications are being invented in developing countries, where the need may be great, but human ingenuity even greater.

Mobile broadband has significant potential to expand the availability of high-speed Internet access in developing regions, as barriers to entry in the installation and maintenance of mobile masts are low and since wireline access is often restricted to major urban centers.

Since the Tunis Phase of the WSIS in 2005, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have added over 120 million mobile cellular subscriptions to their subscriber base. With this, in just three short years, LDCs have been able to increase their mobile penetration rate from under 5% to over 20%. Mobile telephony remains a high-growth market in developing countries that has barely been impacted by the recent economic turmoil and financial crisis.

We have the technical capabilities to offer remarkable services with great development potential, but we need to make these services more affordable for those who need them the most – those on and below the poverty line.
It is widely recognized that mobile telephony has much to offer developing countries, but I like to think that developing countries have much to offer mobile telephony – in terms of new applications and services to meet the needs of the poor.

Mobile telephony represents the means for fulfilling WSIS goal that is the closest to being met – “to ensure that more than half the world’s inhabitants have access to ICTs within their reach”. Therefore, we need to continue to prioritize mobile telephony as the means to further the development agenda and reach as many people as possible.

Thank you.