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

ITU TELECOM Asia 2008 - Joint Forum Opening, "New Generation, New Values"
Bangkok, Thailand
2 September 2008

Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the opening of the Forum at ITU TELECOM ASIA 2008.

I will not take up much of your time today, as my goal – and I hope it is a goal you share – is to hear as much as possible from the floor, and to keep the speeches from the podium to a minimum.

The true value of the Forum at these events is its potential for tremendous interactivity and exchange – giving each of us the possibility to have our say, share our experiences with others, and in turn learn from them.

Before handing over the floor, however, I would just like to say a few words about this extraordinary region.

Yesterday, here in Bangkok, ITU launched a brand new report, ‘Asia-Pacific Telecommunication / ICT Indicators 2008’, which contains the latest analysis and comprehensive data from across the region.

I think it is already common knowledge that Asia has been experiencing a period of astonishing growth.

But even I was surprised to discover that at the beginning of 2008, the total number of telephone subscribers in this region passed the two billion mark.
Even taking into account those who have two or even more lines, that still gives an extraordinary effective teledensity of 37% for Asia, up from just 7% a decade ago.

In practical terms, that means that more than one in three people in the region now have a phone line, compared to just one in fourteen, ten years ago.
In every region of the world, mobile has been the great growth story, and Asia is no exception. By the beginning of this year, the region overall had over 1.4 billion mobile subscribers – giving Asia alone more cellular subscribers than there were in the whole world, just four years earlier!

Almost every country in the region shows the same pattern of growth.

Here in Thailand, four in five people now have a mobile, up from 16% five years ago.

And even in war-torn Afghanistan, one in six people now enjoy the benefits of mobile communications – compared to just one in a thousand people at the start of 2003.

Naturally, ICT development is not just about mobile communications. Indeed, as our new report points out, it is also about delivering easy, affordable access to the Internet – and particularly high-speed broadband access – and enabling all people, whether rich or poor, to benefit from the advantages the online world brings to business, communities and individuals.

It is great news, therefore, to see that the number of Internet users in Asia has almost tripled in five years, from 210 million at the beginning of 2003, to over 560 million at the start of this year – giving Asia more Internet users today than the global total six years ago.

In terms of broadband access, Asia has also made remarkable progress in the past few years, with numbers growing almost five-fold in five years, from 27 million fixed broadband subscribers at the beginning of 2003, to 133 million at the start of 2008.

That has largely been driven by China, where rising income levels, a vibrant ICT manufacturing industry, and huge economies of scale have all contributed to the rapid uptake of broadband. So much so, in fact, that China now has 66 million fixed broadband subscribers – making it the lower-middle-income economy with the highest fixed broadband penetration in the region, at 5%.

My friends and colleagues,

As Secretary-General of an organization which is ‘committed to connecting the world’, I cannot tell you how much this kind of progress means to me.

As you know, ITU firmly believes that by connecting the world, and fulfilling everyone’s fundamental right to communicate, the world will become a better and a safer place.

There is much, however, that still needs to be done.

While mobile phone penetration rates have grown phenomenally in recent years, there are still islands and some remote areas where people have to walk huge distances to access even the simplest communications facilities, or where local people have never even seen a telephone.

International Internet bandwidth also remains a big issue, with huge variations across the region. While China benefits from an impressive 370’000 Mbps of international bandwidth, India has less than one tenth of that, and Cambodia has only a total of 250 Mbps. Afghanistan and Bhutan have as little as 26 and 45 Mbps, respectively.

I am personally optimistic that solutions will be found. Asia has always been a continent of opportunities, and I do not think it will be long before many more of the continent’s people will have the kind of high-speed access that delivers benefits from health and education to commerce and good governance.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I could speak for a great deal longer, but I promised I would be brief. So let me close, instead, at this point, by expressing our appreciation to all the ministers, VIPs, speakers, moderators and delegates who will undoubtedly make this year’s ITU TELECOM ASIA Forum a great success this week.

Thank you.