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

ITU TELECOM WORLD 2009: Forum Joint Opening
Geneva, Switzerland
5 October 2009

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the opening of the Forum at ITU Telecom World 2009.

I will be brief, this afternoon, as I do not want to take up much of your time. The real value of these Forums is to hear as much as possible from the floor, and to keep speeches from the podium to a minimum.

We want to hear your views – and especially the views of the participants in the Youth Forum. You are all digital natives, and can teach the rest of us, the world’s digital immigrants, a great deal.

Before handing over the floor, however, let me go back to a time when most of the members of the Youth Forum were still young children. Back to the end of the last century, when things were very different indeed.


A decade ago, at the beginning of 1999, 3.6 billion people around the world had access to television. At the same time there were 840 million fixed line subscribers, 320 million mobile cellular subscriptions, and 186 million Internet users globally.

At the opening of the Forum in October 1999, ITU predicted – at the risk of being proved wrong – that the number of mobile subscriptions globally could surpass the number of fixed line subscribers by the time of the next ITU Telecom World event in 2003.

That came to pass in 2002. And today, the number of mobile subscriptions, at around 4.6 billion globally, is almost four times greater than the number of fixed lines worldwide.

Compare that to the number of people with access to television, which has grown in the past decade from 3.6 billion to 4.9 billion.

In 2009 – a year of worldwide recession – we have managed to add 600 million mobile cellular subscriptions.

I am quietly confident, therefore, in predicting that the number of mobile subscriptions will surpass the number of people with access to television in 2010.

And that the number of mobile subscriptions will surpass the number of people on the planet by 2013 – at the very latest.

Turning now to the Internet.

Back in 1999, we predicted that in 2003, 500 million people would have Internet access.

Again we underestimated. The real number turned out to be closer to 800 million.

Today, the number is around 1.8 billion – over 60% of whom have broadband connections.

The only prediction we got wrong in 1999, was saying we thought a good proportion of Internet users would be accessing it from mobile devices.

We were ahead of ourselves.

But not very far ahead.

In 2009 – for the first time – we now have more mobile broadband subscriptions globally than fixed line broadband subscribers.

So we have, to a very large extent, won the numbers game in the space of a single decade.

But that is only part of the picture.

Distinguished colleagues,

It is one thing to be bringing connectivity to all the world’s people. That is an achievement we certainly shouldn’t underestimate. But it is quite another to put all this connectivity to good use.

Good use in leveraging the benefits of e-education, e-health and e-government.

Good use in being able to create, use and share information and knowledge freely.

And good use in addressing the most important issues of our time – which include the global financial crisis; cybersecurity; and of course climate change.

The Forum this week will address all these issues and more – and it gives me great pleasure to hand you over now to the moderator for this session, Reza Jafari.

Thank you.