Remarks by Malcolm Johnson, ITU Deputy Secretary-General
25th Iran International Electronic, Computer & E-Commerce Exhibition: Panel Discussion on “Digital Economy and International Organizations”
17 July 2019 - Tehran, Iran
Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen good evening. Ahmad, thank you for your kind words. And thank you for your active involvement and leadership in ITU activities.
I would like to thank the Islamic Republic of Iran for inviting ITU to speak here today. I am very pleased to be back in Iran after 8 years. Thank you very much for your warm welcome and generous hospitality. And greetings from the Secretary-General and all my colleagues.
Let me take this opportunity to congratulate Iran on its election to the ITU Council at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference held last November in Dubai.
We are very pleased to have Iran back on the Council. Iran has been an active member of ITU for over 150 years and has immediately played an active role in the Council, in particular by helping to build consensus on the theme of the next ITU World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum which will take place in 2021. It will address “how new and emerging digital technologies and trends are enablers of the global transition to the digital economy.”
A global transition to the digital economy will be essential for social, economic and environmentally sustainable development and must leave no one behind. ITU as the lead UN agency for information and communications technologies clearly has a major role to play.
As I mentioned at an event on this subject during the United Nations High-Level Political Forum in New York last week, people need to have trust in digital financial services before they will use them. They must be confident in the security and authenticity, so that they know who they are transacting and experience a high quality of service at an affordable price.
This can only be assured with the implementation of international standards. This is a core function of ITU going back to its origin in 1865. Over the last two years ITU has been developing the international standards to meet these requirements thanks to its diverse membership of not only 193 Member States, but also over 900 members from the private sector (telecom companies as well as Internet companies), universities, and other international and regional organization’s, reflecting the diverse nature of today’s digital economy.
But for standards on digital financial services we needed the participation of the financial sector players: financial regulators; digital financial service providers, payment platforms, FinTech innovators, and central banks. So, we formed a partnership with the World Bank and the Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructure, with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to attract all these various stakeholders to the work.
We call this partnership the “Financial Inclusion Global Initiative” (FIGI).
FIGI consists of three main components:
- Country implementation of standards for Payment Aspects of Financial Inclusion (PAFI) and the enabling policy and regulatory framework.
- An annual FIGI Symposium; and
- Three working groups on:
- Digital identity
- Electronic Payments Acceptance, and
- Security, Infrastructure and Trust
Standards have been, or are being, developed to address security, regulatory implications, consumer protection, fraud prevention and counterfeiting, the security of distributed ledger technologies (e.g. blockchain), cybersecurity, digital identity and identity management, principles for ethical use of data in big data analytics and artificial intelligence, standardization of mobile payment services using QR code, enhanced authentication in telebiometric environments using anti-spoofing detection mechanisms, as well as the use of telecom data for financial inclusion purposes.
The first edition of the FIGI Symposium was held in India in 2017. The second edition of was held in January 2019 in Egypt and saw the participation of some 308 participants from the DFS ecosystem from 69 countries. The next edition is planned for 2-5 June 2020 in Brazil.
ITU has also developed:
- an SDG Digital Investment Framework: as an analytical guide to digital investment identifying reusable ICT building blocks to deliver priority SDG use cases. The framework builds on a whole-of-government approach to ICT investment;
- and a Best Practice Guidelines and a Digital Identity Roadmap providing a step-by-step guide through existing options to successfully implement an interoperable, scalable, and cost-effective platform for national digital identification.
But of course, the essential requirement is connectivity, and as we know almost half the world’s population is still not using the Internet. Partly this is because they live outside coverage area, and partly it is due to lack of awareness, lack of digital skills or it is just not affordable. The good news is that there are some exciting innovations coming along which ITU’s World Radio Conference (WRC-19) later this year in Egypt is set to allocate spectrum for, namely low earth orbiting satellite networks and high-altitude platforms. Both innovations have the potential to provide coverage of the hard to reach rural and remote areas at an affordable price.
WRC-19 will update the Radio Regulations - the only international treaty on the use of the radio spectrum and satellite orbits − to satisfy these an increasing range of demands on the spectrum and orbit resources, including additional spectrum for 5G.
The standardization of IMT-2020 technology, the name used in ITU for 5G, is well underway. ITU has defined the vision and the technical performance requirements for IMT-2020. But with billions of devices interconnected and relying on secure and low latency connections, 5G will also require much more capacity and spectral efficiency beyond what is currently used by 3G and 4G and so WRC-19 will look to allocate bands above 24GHz. These new allocations need to be agreed internationally to ensure interconnection and interoperability, as well as to achieve the resulting economies of scale of a world-wide market.
The previous WRC in 2015 also addressed the need to provide coverage to rural areas by allocating the 700/800 MHz bands as co-primary to the mobile and broadcasting services. The transition from analogue to digital TV has been completed in Iran and many countries of ITU’s Regions 1 and 3 which has allowed the implementation of the so-called Digital Dividend for mobile broadband in a harmonized way.
The 700/800MHz bands are prime spectrum for wide area coverage at a lower cost for the rural and remote areas - where most of the unconnected live. These bands are especially important in the areas with favourable propagation such as the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf.
Many regions have initiated multilateral coordination meetings to find additional channels for digital television below 700 MHz to make available the bands above 700 MHz for mobile service. These multilateral coordination meetings are essential to reach agreement on the most efficient use of the spectrum in the region and avoid mutually harmful interference in border areas. ITU’s Radio Bureau provides the technical assistance to administrations in these meetings to ensure a successful outcome. We strongly encourage Iran and all countries in this region to actively participate in these meetings.
Not until all the world’s population is connected to broadband communications will people everywhere be able to benefit from the digital economy, or indeed other essential services such a health, education and sustainable productivity.
Now, I would like to say a few words about what ITU is doing in the area of artificial intelligence. One of our landmark events in this area is the AI for Good Global Summit, the leading UN platform for global and inclusive dialogue on AI.
Last May, over 2,000 AI innovators and public and private-sector decision-makers from around the globe were in Geneva to highlight the potential of AI in fields as diverse as education, healthcare, social and economic equality, and space research. The objective of the Summit is to generate new AI projects that can accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. ITU’s vision is to ensure trusted, safe and inclusive development of AI technologies and equitable access to their benefits.
We also have Focus Groups dedicated to AI, such as the “Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence for Health” created with WHO and the new Focus Group on “Environmental Efficiency for Artificial Intelligence and other Emerging Technologies”. These focus groups show how we can work together across sectors to develop the technical standards that can protect our environment and improve and even save lives. They are open to all interested parties whether members of ITU or not and I encourage you to participate.
Another upcoming event I would like to mention is ITU’s annual Telecom World which this year will be held in Budapest, Hungary from 9 to 12 September. This event brings together governments, corporates and tech small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to exhibit innovative solutions, network, share knowledge and participate in debates with experts. It is part of ITU’s outreach to innovators and start-ups which includes the creation of a new category of ITU membership for SMEs at a much lower membership fee. We also now provide remote participation to many of our meetings so that members can actively participate without the cost of travel and accommodation.
I am sure there will be a lot of interest in this here. In 2011 I visited the Isfahan Science and Technology Park and was impressed with the enthusiasm of the very bright innovators working there. I am very much looking forward to returning there tomorrow to see how things have developed. I very much hope we will see many Iranian start-ups joining ITU when this new category of membership begins in January next year.
There have been great strides in the country especially over the last four years. Four years ago, only three cities had 3G, now all 1,242 have 3G and 4G; and not just cities but 78% of all villages also now have broadband services. Thousands of Apps have been created and 300,00 new jobs for ITU developers. Four years ago, local content on the Internet was just 10% whereas today it is more than 50%. These are impressive figures and I would like to congratulate the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology for these achievements.
Finally, I would like to mention that ITU leads the UN coalition on smart sustainable cities, a coalition of 16 different UN bodies which has developed an international set of KPIs to measure the effectiveness of cities to use the technology for sustainable development. We have over 50 cities worldwide using these KPIs and very much hope we will have some cities in Iran joining this programme in the near future.
To conclude, ITU is very grateful for the excellent collaboration with Iran over so many years and we look forward to discussing how we can further strengthen this cooperation to ensure that the new technologies help turn the digital revolution into a development revolution for everyone everywhere, whether they live a vast city like Tehran or a remote village far away. This technology can benefit everyone, to have a healthier more productive and enjoyable life, providing of course they have the connection and are empowered to use it!