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Keynote Address - Digital Thailand Big Bang 2017

Speech by Malcolm Johnson, ITU Deputy Secretary-General

Keynote Address - Digital Thailand Big Bang 2017


21 September 2017, Bangkok, Thailand


Good afternoon.

We live in an age of digital transformation. Big data, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, 5G and other emerging technologies that will shape our digital future. But we must ensure that they shape our future for the better - and for everyone.

This morning, I signed a Memorandum of Understanding on behalf of the International Telecommunication Union with the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society of Thailand to establish a framework of cooperation on “Digital Thailand”, an important step in building the future of the country.

I will speak more about the memorandum and the areas where ITU and Thailand intend to focus their cooperation later but first, let me take a quick photo.

Sorry, this is for my twitter feed. In the time it took me to do this, people sent over 350,000 tweets around the world. How many of you were doing just the same? That’s 500 million tweets per day! And we are only talking about Twitter.

Demand for digital data is exploding and data volumes are soaring. Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data - that is, one-billion billion bytes of data produced by sensors, mobile devices, online transactions and social networking every single day.
Needless to say, this puts tremendous pressure on telecommunication networks, and all of these services are competing for a share of the radio frequency spectrum. Nothing would be possible without it, and managing the international use of spectrum and satellite orbits is one of ITU’s core tasks.

All of these services also need to work across borders, and that requires globally harmonized standards to ensure interoperability, and provide economies of scale. Here, too, ITU plays a crucial role with its international standards, developed mainly by our industry members (over 450) and approved by our 193 government members. Academia, civil society and other regional and international organizations make up the rest of the ITU membership.

As we approach 2020, our work on the international standardization of 5G systems will be essential. We’ve already put forward an initial set of 5G performance targets in our IMT-2020 prgramme which is preparing the ground for new applications such as automated driving, remote medical surgery, collaborative robotics and advanced virtual reality.

In this era of ‘always connected’, there is an expectation that we can have a high-speed data connection at all times -- everywhere. 
But the reality is different.

This year’s State of Broadband Report, which ITU released last week, suggests that we are entering a ‘winner-takes-all’ phase in digital development - a phase where ‘frontrunner’ countries are moving even further ahead, while developing countries are having to run faster and faster just trying to keep up. The gap in transmission speeds is increasing, and there is no visible progress in the digital gender divide.
Bridging the digital divide, in all its forms, is one of ITU’s top priorities and it is why we are happy to contribute to “Digital Thailand” with the implementation of the memorandum we just signed with Thailand’s Ministry of Digital Economy and Society.

Around the world, 3.9 billion people are still not connected to the Internet.

As I pointed out this morning at our Forum on Smart Cities and e-Government, two out of every three of these unconnected people live in the Asia-Pacific region. In fact, more than half of the world’s total offline population comes from just five Asia-Pacific countries - the majority from South Asia, where the share of the rural population is also the highest.

The risk is that people with the most to gain from information and communication technologies will be locked out of the benefits. And that’s why what we see in Thailand with a programme like “Net Pracharat” is so important.

I heard Minister Dr Pichet talked in Phnom Penh recently of his hope to bring the young people who moved to the big cities back to their rural homeland. This resonates with me because I was born in a small village in Wales - and because I owe everything to information and communication technologies.

Thousands of miles separate us, but the young people who live in these villages have the same aspirations I once had. Who knows, one day one of them might sit at my desk in Geneva!

Installing high-speed broadband networks for all villages in Thailand by the end of 2018 is not just ambitious; it’s the vision of a digital future where no one is left behind, where opportunities know no boundaries.

The scale of the infrastructure that must be built is unprecedented - in Thailand and elsewhere. We need to develop public-private partnerships that cut across industries and sectors, in particular in those hard-to-reach areas with no Internet access where topography and demography too often defeat market viability. Tech SMEs will be essential as we seek to create jobs, innovation and growth.

And we need to help policymakers strengthen their digital development strategies. A recent survey by ITU and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development found that less than 25% of these strategies contain details on investment requirements for infrastructure - and less than 5% on investment needs beyond infrastructure, including for the development of digital industries.
It is almost exactly two years since the adoption of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. On that day, the world came together to set a bold vision for the future. Information and communication technologies are driving substantial transformation in many development-related sectors, making ICTs a key accelerator towards the achievement of these goals.

But connectivity alone won’t be enough.
It is estimated that 85% of the world’s population is covered by at least 3G services, but still we have less than 50% of the population connected. This is one of the challenges here in Thailand. How do we get people in the villages to use broadband? And how do we get them to use it for commercial, educational or health purposes?

Make no mistake: digital inclusion can only be effective and meaningful if and when everyone feels empowered to use the technology - and when the technology and the services they provide are affordable, attractive and safe.

That’s why the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society’s “rural e-commerce” initiative together with the “village broadband” initiative will bring e-commerce to the local people, so they can sell their products and services online, generate more income and improve their quality of life. 

Education systems worldwide need to cultivate the digital skills people need to fully utilize and excel in our increasingly digitized societies.
Human capacity building. Youth. Cybersecurity. Access. Investment. Digital startups, entrepreneurs and SMEs. The implementation of the MoU I signed today between the ITU and the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, will assist with all these topics which are central to achievement of “Digital Thailand”. All of them will shape the digital future.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The future depends on what we do in the present”.

As we look to bridge the digital divide, let us commit here today to bringing the power and potential of the digital transformation to everyone, everywhere - so that together we can power the information society.

Thank you.