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

INFOFEST 2008 - Opening
Budva, Montenegro
29 September 2008

Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me say how pleased I am to be here with you this morning, as we embark on two days of intensive discussions about the shape of the region’s ICT future.

I’d like to take a moment to welcome Montenegro to the ITU as our newest Member State, and to thank the authorities for organizing this important event in such a marvellous and historic venue.

As policymakers and technical experts, I doubt many of you need much of an introduction to the work of ITU. As the world’s oldest intergovernmental organization, we’ve been leading development of the world’s networks and services for over 140 years.

Creating globally-agreed standards is one of our core activities, and one which continues to ramp up as technological development accelerates.

Looking ahead to emerging technologies, priorities include Next Generation Networks, fast broadband platforms, and of course the next wave in cellular mobile, which is being developed under the auspices of ITU’s IMT-Advanced project.

Work on NGN is progressing apace. ITU’s NGN Global Standards Initiative represents one of the largest global standardization projects ever undertaken, involving cooperative work between leading standards-making bodies to define the networks that will deliver tomorrow’s converged services.

Since supporting the boom in broadband multimedia applications, ITU’s VDSL2 standard supports 100Mbps upstream and downstream transmission rates – a tenfold increase over ADSL. This technology is expected to be rapidly adopted by telcos worldwide as part of new ‘triple-play’ bundled voice and multimedia offerings.

And in the wireless realm, IMT-Advanced represents another huge, cooperative standardization effort that will deliver a new global platform on which to build the next generation of mobile services – fast data access, unified messaging and broadband mobile multimedia.

ITU-R has commenced the submission and evaluation process for the terrestrial components of the IMT-Advanced radio interface. Work on this exciting new family of standards is scheduled to culminate in 2011, with ITU Recommendations on the IMT-Advanced air interface.

At last year’s World Radiocommunication Conference, ITU successfully brokered international agreement on harmonized global spectrum allocations for IMT-based systems.

That conference also brought an important new technology into the IMT fold. As we saw very clearly at this year’s ITU TELECOM events in Cairo and Bangkok, WiMAX has great potential as a platform for wireless broadband service delivery, and could help many countries bridge their broadband divide.

Here in the Balkans, WiMAX has generated much market interest, but little in the way of concrete deployments. I hope ITU’s endorsement of this technology, and the clear focus we’re now seeing from leading vendors, will help make the benefits of this technology more accessible to emerging markets worldwide.

Ladies and gentlemen,

These are some of ITU’s technical standardization priorities. But I imagine many of you are more familiar with ITU’s policy-making activities, particularly in the area of ICT regulation.

I believe the importance of effective regulation simply cannot be over-stated. Policies and frameworks conducive to investment, to competitive service delivery, and to the deployment of new technologies, are the critical ‘other half’ of the ICT development picture.

Without them, the best technologies in the world will never get to the people who need them, and economies will never get the chance to fully leverage the power of ICTs to stimulate growth across all industry sectors.

Here in the Balkans, many of you have been making substantial progress in gearing your frameworks to the challenges of the next wave of converged service offerings, and in opening your markets to the competitive forces that will drive faster network and service rollouts and help keep prices affordable for users.

Our host, Montenegro, is a fine example of the rapid advances that can be made, given the right environment.

With larger European economies languishing at under 3% annual GDP growth, Montenegro is currently reporting growth of over 10% per annum, thanks to a boom in industry sectors like tourism and construction. Teledensity is now well over 100%, thanks to the rapid uptake of cellular mobile. And at over 14%, Internet penetration is above the regional average.

But while some neighbouring countries have been enjoying similar levels of success, across the region as a whole there’s still some way to go, particularly in areas like broadband.

A quick comparison between the Balkans and the Baltic states to the north shows that while fixed line penetration is roughly equivalent across the two regions, the Baltic states boast almost twice the broadband penetration.

This is important for several reasons. Broadband can no longer be considered a ‘luxury’ technology. As multimedia content floods onto the Web, access via dial-up is becoming untenable.

Users forced to contend with slow connections not only miss out on the full interactive experience, but are increasingly missing out altogether, as data-heavy sites become impossible to load.

This has critical implications for the region. Education will suffer. So will delivery of government information and services. Crucially, so will prospects for stimulating growth through business development and foreign investment.

As markets around you mature, opportunities abound for the Balkan economies. But one thing is certain – no country will be able to take advantage of these new investment opportunities without a fast, modern and reliable ICT infrastructure. ICT is the lifeblood of business, and the motor for every other economic sector.

That is why it is essential that all countries of the region work together to modernize their networks and their ICT regulatory frameworks. The rise of markets in the CIS, Asia and parts of Africa which are eager to attract investment means there is no time to lose. Those who fail to move quickly will, quite simply, get left behind.

Distinguished colleagues,

New technologies and new approaches can help leapfrog old impediments. I’ve already mentioned WiMAX as a powerful new IMT-2000-compliant technology with much potential for delivering wireless Internet affordably, and across difficult terrain. Other fast technologies like HSDPA are also gaining ground in countries across the region, with deployments already operational in Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Slovenia.

To accelerate the rollout of new technologies and services, governments and operators can look to innovative approaches based around the concept of infrastructure sharing.

This concept served as the theme of ITU’s Global Symposium for Regulators, held earlier this year. At a simple level, it means the cooperative sharing of equipment and facilities like towers and switching stations between operators to cut deployment costs.

At a broader level, it means leveraging many more exciting possibilities through the sharing of costs and civil works between ICT providers and providers of other utilities and infrastructure like power lines, roads, train lines, town drainage networks, and more.

Governments and regulators can do much to encourage such initiatives, which benefit the state, private industry and users alike by cutting costs and red tape, and making services accessible more quickly, at a lower cost.

Ladies and gentlemen,

You have enormous opportunities within your reach. ICTs are the key to unlocking these opportunities, and need to be accorded a top priority in every national and regional development agenda.

As valued members of the ITU family, you can rely on us for assistance and support as you work towards building the frameworks and networks that will serve as the platform for your future growth. We look forward to working with you.

Thank you.