Speech from Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General

World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly
Johannesburg, South Africa
21 October 2008

Honorable Minister H.E. Ivy Matsepe Casaburri,
Excellencies, Ministers, Ambassadors,
Directors BR, TSB, and BDT,
Professor Marwala,
Chairman of ICASA, Mr Paris Mashile,
Ms Zia Maharaj,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to Johannesburg for the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA-08). This “rainbow” nation has inspired the continent and the world, not least because of its booming information and communication technology (ICT) sector. I would like to thank H.E. Minister Ivy Matsepe Casaburri for the warm welcome and kind hospitality so legendary for this great African Nation. Hearing Zia Maharaj speaking gives me also assurance that, indeed, the future is bright. A future full of hope. We have just learned from her how the youth would like us to lay the ground for them to be able to evolve in the challenging environment they are in.

Johannesburg was also the venue of ITU TELECOM AFRICA 2001, hosted under President Thabo Mbeki. Three years earlier, at the invitation of President Nelson Mandela, ITU TELECOM AFRICA 98 took place in the same city. President Mandela urged the world community to bridge the gap between the “information-rich” and the “information-poor”.

A decade later, we have made the most extraordinary progress. Back at the beginning of 1998, there were one billion fixed and mobile subscribers worldwide, and just 182 million Internet users. By the beginning of this year, however, those numbers had mushroomed beyond all expectations – to reach 4.5 billion total telephone subscribers, and 1.34 billion Internet users. Within the next few weeks there will be over four billion mobile subscribers on the planet, and over 1.5 billion people will have access to the Internet.

Standardization has played a vital role in achieving this progress.

The information and communication technology (ICT) sector is characterized by its fast paced nature, innovation, competition, collaboration and change. And at the heart of all ICTs are standards.

World Telecommunication Standardization Assemblies enable ITU as the pre-eminent global ICT standards body - to take stock of the global situation and adapt our work accordingly. Being here in Africa is also significant for me as an African. I welcome very much the opportunity to bring this key event to this great continent and address - head-on - one of the key goals of ITU, bridging the digital divide – in this case by bridging the standardization gap and bringing more participants from Africa and the rest of the developing world to our standards meetings.
Standardization is a complex business, and it is getting more complex by the day. But standards are essential for international communications and global trade. Globalisation requires global standards, and a global standards body like ITU clearly has an increasing role to play. Global standards avoid costly market battles over preferred technologies, and for companies from emerging markets, they create a level playing field which provides access to new markets. They are an essential aid to developing countries in building their infrastructure and encouraging economic development. They can reduce costs for all: manufacturers, operators and consumers, through economies of scale.

So, it is vital given the vast breadth of membership of ITU to regularly examine the ICT environment and understand best how to meet the challenges of the coming years and take into account the needs of all our members whether Member State, Sector Member, developed or developing country.

In the past ITU members have made admirable decisions ensuring that ITU’s working processes are the most efficient available and that its work areas are the most important in order to meet the Union’s mission – to connect the world.

I am proud of the strong resolve that ITU-T has shown in supporting this number one goal of ITU. Decisions made at the last WTSA have taken into account the commercial realities for our members whether they hail from rich or poor countries and have heralded a new era of communications – the so-called next generation networks (NGN).

ITU-T has remained the preeminent global standards body for telecommunications (and now ICTs) throughout its history. The challenge is to make sure that it remains that way. I trust the WTSA decisions will be directed by the needs of the global community such as addressing climate change and this vision to connect the world.

To have maintained the level of credibility and importance that ITU has achieved over so many years is an incredible feat. In today’s rich ICT environment it is even more remarkable. One of the recognized reasons for this is our ability to absorb and embrace the need for change. And this WTSA-08 presents us with more opportunities for change than we have seen in previous years.
ITU is the oldest organization of the United Nations with its 143 years of cooperation, I am happy to report to you that since the new Management team have worked with me to make this organization more efficient and relevant by working on the ‘ One ITU’ concept around one theme ‘Connect the World’ .

I wish you a very successful Assembly. You have an important role to play in the preparations for an important new era.
Good luck, let’s make this the start of a successful new period for ITU-T.