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

GSMA Asia-Pacific Conference - 21st Brithday of GSM
Colombo, Sri Lanka
8 September 2008

Ladies & Gentlemen, Honoured Guests, My dear friends,


It is my honour and privilege to be invited here to address you today. I am especially pleased to be with you, as we are here to celebrate a birthday - the 21st birthday of GSM.

I am returning after a very successful ITU TELECOM ASIA 2008 held in Bangkok last week, which focused on new business opportunities to sustain growth in the dynamic ICT industry in the Asia-Pacific region as well as on the younger generation of users and innovators.
With over two billion telephones, including 1.4 billion mobile subscribers, and 42 per cent of the world’s Internet users, Asia is a region of superlatives in the ICT arena. It is also the world’s largest broadband market with a 39 per cent share of the world’s total at the end of 2007.


Through its analysis and research, ITU has long monitored the pulse of the telecommunication industry. Over the past fifteen years, the world has witnessed the transformation of telephony markets to become mobile, competitive and mostly privately-owned – developments we anticipated and tracked in our renowned World Telecommunication Development Report series.

ITU also launched Asia Pacific Telecommunications and ICT Indicators Report 2008. ‘New Generation, New Values’, the theme of ITU TELECOM Asia 2008 addressed the demands of a young population that is clearly setting the tone for a new generation of ICT developers and development.


In 2002, we passed the milestone of mobile phones outnumbering fixed-line telephones and in August last year, we surpassed the milestone of three billion mobile phone subscriptions. Now, one in two of the world’s inhabitants have access to a mobile phone.

At the Geneva Phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2003, world leaders and governments agreed on a set of international goals for connectivity to be achieved by 2015. ICTs are a key means of achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and making up the substantial shortfalls to achieving the MDGs that still persist, before 2015.

Today, mobile telephony represents the best tool for meeting the WSIS targets set by world leaders, thanks to investments and efforts by governments and mobile operators alike around the world. More importantly, new applications that use the power or mobile telephony – such as m-banking, telediagnosis and SMS alerts – are helping people to improve their lives for the better. The power of communications cannot be understated. Investment is the engine that is driving this mobile revolution.


The mobile market continues to invest heavily in the roll-out of new infrastructure and new services. For example, the GSM Association predicts that investment in mobile communications in sub-Saharan Africa alone will be worth some US$50 billion over the next five years (on top of the US$35 billion already committed to the region). This will make a significant impact, in bridging the digital divide.

One area where new investment is yielding tangible results is the success achieved by 3G (IMT) mobile operators. By the end of 2007, 3G networks had been launched in 108 countries, with some 812 million 3G subscribers worldwide. One in every four mobile subscriber is now using a 3G device, and taking advantage of the much richer range of services that it brings.


Investment in mobile offers significant benefits with strong multiplier effects for the national economy:

  • According to the GSM Association’s pioneering studies in East Africa, the mobile industry as a whole can contribute as much as 3.5-5% to total GDP.
  • Further, a 10% increase in mobile penetration could result in a 1.2% increase in the annual growth rate in GDP.

It is therefore vital to ensure that funds that are collected for the purpose of universal access are re-invested promptly.


Through its annual regulatory survey, ITU has tracked the transformation of the industry to become increasingly competitive and privately-owned. ITU monitors these trends in its renowned annual Trends in Telecommunication Reform series.

By 2006, three-quarters of all mobile markets worldwide were subject to competition. Competition between existing operators and new entrants has helped stimulate fresh investment, led to the introduction of new services and improved customer service.

In light of credit and investment constraints, ITU foresees fresh impetus for infrastructure-sharing agreements. Such infrastructure-sharing enables operators to meet customer demand for faster speeds, wider coverage and greater capacity more cost-effectively. The eighth GSR held in Pattaya (March 2008 Bangkok) was also focused on innovative infrastructure-sharing and open access strategies to promote affordable access for all. The outcome is the best practice guidelines on Infrastructure-sharing which is also the subject of the ninth edition of ITU’s Trends in Telecommunication Reform series, to be published in September 2008.


The experience of GSM has shown that, by following principles of mutual benefit, open standards and a competitive market, mobile telephony has developed both as a must-have essential communications tool and as a vibrant industry in its own right, earning billions of dollars in revenues each year.

These are principles that ITU endorses in its everyday standardization work, where ITU is committed to developing open and accessible standards drawing on the expertise of its diverse public and private sector Members. ITU established clear principles for the security of IMT (3G) networks and recommended early on that the security provided by mobile broadband 3G networks should be comparable to contemporary fixed networks.


ITU is pleased to be working closely with the GSMA under a Memorandum of Understanding signed at the 7th Global Symposium for Regulators in Dubai last year. This project will strengthen cooperation and improve access to mobile phone services to bridge the digital divide in least developed and developing nations. It concentrates on three key areas: supporting developing market projects for low-cost access to ICTs in underserved areas; industry and government cooperation; and benchmarking of the global industry, on the basis of our close monitoring of the markets.

ITU also appreciates the initiative by GSMA in the establishment of a Developmental Fund for shared access to voice and data services for people living under 2$ per day and ITU encourages investment in sustainable projects that seek to extend access to mobile services in the developing world.


The experience of ITU and GSM has shown that, by following principles of mutual benefit, open standards and a competitive market, mobile telephony has developed both as a must-have essential communications tool and as a vibrant industry in its own right, earning billions of dollars in revenues each year.

I would invite you to join with me in celebrating not only how far we have come, but how far we still have to travel together. ITU is both pleased and proud to join with the GSM Association in recognizing the pioneering work that our two organizations are carrying out to extend the benefits of mobile communications to as many people as possible around the world. This is a challenging task, but a rewarding one, and I would ask you to join with me in recognition of the success we have achieved together.