Speech from Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General
It’s very good to be back with so many of you once again, after our highly successful work together at WRC-07. That landmark event, which welcomed a record number of delegates, will go down as a major milestone in the ongoing development of tomorrow’s ICT industry.
I can say this with confidence because, in a world where radiocommunication-based services now account for more than half of today’s two trillion Euro telecoms market, it’s very clear that the future is wireless. Since the number of mobile phone connections overtook the total number of fixed lines six years ago, mobile penetration has continued to soar, reaching 50% total global penetration in early 2008, with more than 3.1 billion subscribers worldwide.
This is tremendous news for us at ITU, which, as you know, is committed to connecting the world. That primarily means exciting economies where mobile wireless communications are working hardest today in helping us meet our commitment. Together, for example, Brazil, Russia, India and China added over 160 million new mobile subscribers in 2007 alone. And in Africa mobile connections now account for over 85 percent of all phone lines.
Those of you who, like me, attended the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, will have been astounded by the latest developments in this extraordinarily fast-moving sector. By devices that combined mobility with navigation, by context-aware services, and by rich content multimedia and broadcasting functionality. The launch of ‘open mobile network’ platforms also represents a major breakthrough, serving as the intersection between community-based development and mobility that will be increasingly important in the successful marriage of Internet and wireless devices.
Consumers’ unquenchable thirst for wireless technology continues to drive strong demand for spectrum. In the wake of approval of ITU’s IMT-2000 platform, we witnessed unprecedented bidding for 3G spectrum in many parts of the world. By the end of last year, 3G networks were already operational in 108 countries, serving over 800 million subscribers. One in every four mobile users is now using a 3G device, and benefiting from the much richer range of services on offer.
More recently, the 700Mhz spectrum auction in the US concluded with more than 100 winning bidders committing over 19 billion dollars for licenses. Of these, two of the largest bidders were a traditional mobile operator, and a well-established Internet player – ample evidence, if we needed it, of today’s increasingly converged landscape. Further south, the three billion dollars generated by the 3G licensing process in Brazil last December can be counted as an even bigger success, if we take into account the relative size of the two countries’ economies.
We live in an increasingly interconnected world. That’s why ITU places so much store in brokering global consensus on platforms and technologies that will ensure the seamless global interconnection essential to a growing number of services – from digital broadcasting and next-generation mobile to the remote sensing systems that will play a key role in climate monitoring and disaster response.
As many of you know from your work with us in ITU-R Study Groups and at WRCs, ITU is the organization with sole responsibility for defining and recommending global standards and frequency arrangements for International Mobile Telecommunications. Our efforts to develop future IMT platforms and services involve working in close collaboration with yourselves and other international bodies, research organizations, forums and partnership projects.
Guided by the decisions of the 2007 Radiocommunication Assembly, last month we began the process of developing ITU-R Recommendations for the terrestrial components of the IMT-Advanced radio interface – or interfaces – which will serve as the basis of the next generation of mobile devices.
The Assembly also took a major step forward with the decision to add a WiMAX-derived technology to the IMT-2000 set of standards, paving the way to large-scale introduction of broadband wireless services to stationary and mobile devices, and promising new, high-capacity, lower-cost wireless Internet solutions for both urban and rural markets.
WRC itself, meanwhile, earmarked vital new spectrum for IMT, which will provide for extended coverage of 3G services in less-developed regions, as well as delivering the capacity enhancements needed for rich wireless multimedia. Broadcasting is also rapidly entering the digital age, through the work of ITU Study Groups and various ITU projects to support developing countries in making the transition to a digital environment.
As the international agency responsible for overseeing management of the world’s radiocommunication resources, ITU is acutely aware of the importance of effective regulation in supporting the continued development and deployment of new mobile technologies.
Back in the year 2000, we took the decision to launch a new platform for global dialogue among top-level telecoms administrators. Eight years on, our Global Symposium for Regulators has emerged as the key annual event for ICT policy-makers, promoting the best practices and policies essential to building healthy mobile markets.
At a more granular level, our seminar on Software-Defined Radio and Cognitive Radio Systems held in Geneva in February helped clearly define the core issues that still need to be resolved. Through WRC Resolution 956, ITU is working to build consensus in areas like national spectrum allocation, the importance of interference mitigation and spectrum quality, and the implications of these systems on the operating environment for traditional and new players.
Cognitive radio and self-configuring networks also have the potential to provide additional flexibility, dynamic spectrum management, and more efficient, flexible spectrum use – all essential, given finite spectrum resources.
Technological development brings with it high hopes and expectations. At the local level, in many parts of the world, wireless broadband is being increasingly viewed as the most promising means of achieving universal access. And as we can all see, just looking around us, wireless in Europe is fast becoming the technology of choice for the young, as well as the platform for a huge and growing range of personal, business and community services.
Speed is key – but technology alone will not ensure success. Creating an enabling regulatory environment is vital to ensuring that R&D continues to flourish; that operators are encouraged to invest in new infrastructure, improve quality of service, and extend access; and that users get the exciting new services they want, at affordable prices.
At the same time as the CEPT community is reviewing its future direction, the European Commission is looking to implement an ambitious new vision for a ‘Wireless Europe’, and ITU’s own membership is debating the best ways of optimizing international spectrum resources. This CEPT conference therefore represents an important step towards forging a new paradigm, where technology and regulation combine to meet the needs of the fully connected Information Society.