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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

Speech by ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré *

   UNCTAD –  Global Services Forum

Services Trade and Inclusive and Sustainable Development

The Role of ICTs in an Inclusive and Innovative Services Sector  

19 April 2012, Doha, Qatar

* Delivered on behalf of Dr Hamadoun Touré by Mr Ebrahim Alhaddad, Regional Director of ITU's Regional Office for the Arab States
Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning – and a warm thank you to UNCTAD for organizing this important and timely Forum.

I am speaking here today on behalf of Dr Hamadoun Touré, who unfortunately could not be here in person, but who sends his best wishes to you all. It is an honour to be able to represent him here today, as ITU’s Regional Director for the Arab States Region.

Let me welcome this opportunity to be able to discuss the role of information and communication technologies – ICTs – in an inclusive and innovative services sector.

It is clear that the relationship between the ICT sector and the services sector is critical for both sectors – and indeed the services sector played a leading role in the adoption of ICTs. Traditionally, the services sector was one of the main purchasers of ICT equipment and services. At the same time it has been significantly transformed by ICTs in terms of both performance and quality improvements – making it a win-win relationship.

We all know that sectors such as finance and business services lead in terms of ICT investments. In return, ICT exposes these services to competition and leads them to innovate to become more competitive in turn and thereby more tradable.

ICT continues to transform the services sector. The ongoing diffusion of ICTs and a new wave of ICT applications enabled by broadband, mobile phones and sensor networks are spreading rapidly throughout the economy and creating more inclusive, innovative and high-impact services. This opens up windows for innovation and trade opportunities for both developed and developing countries.

For example, the increasing pressures on many countries’ health systems from an ageing population, increased rates of chronic disease, and health workforce challenges, mean it is critical to consider opportunities to deliver high-quality services more effectively and efficiently using the power of ICTs.

We can already see many areas where ICTs – and in particular m-health – are already making a difference, and we expect to see extraordinary progress, revolutionary progress, in the years ahead.

It is clear, for example, that we shall continue to see an increasing move from narrow-band to ever more data-centric and real-time applications, especially on mobile devices.

Indeed, in the very near future, more people will be accessing the Internet from mobile wireless devices than they will from fixed-line computers.

There are already some 1.2 billion mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide, and companies like Ericsson and Nokia expect that number to rise to over five billion in the next decade.

This will allow some services – notably consultation and diagnosis – which were previously available only in clinics or hospitals, to become available in the home, on-demand, through affordable low-tech solutions.

This will all be facilitated by the move to next-generation all-IP networks and devices.

Already, most mobile devices have a camera included. So with all-IP networks, this allows for free, or ultra-low cost, real-time video-conferencing – from the home, or even from the ambulance.

Across every sector we will also see a massive proliferation in machine-to-machine communications, and we will see the ‘Internet of Things’ become a reality – with current forecasts predicting over 50 billion interconnected devices by the year 2020.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Internet is also having a huge impact on the global economy, with businesses increasingly moving online, and billions of dollars worth of online transactions taking place every week.

We are witnessing the very rapid virtualization of many goods – from books and films to music and software. And while most physical goods are still being shipped into the real world, they are very often being ordered online.

With access to ICTs, the classroom is no longer limited to three-dimensional space for the dissemination of knowledge. Students have virtually limitless access to information, faculty, tutors and each other. Digital libraries and repositories make materials widely available. Learning environments now permit social interaction and community exchange to support the learning process.

Smartphones already comprise roughly 50% of handset sales in Europe, and we can expect this trend to spread rapidly into the developing world over time, as smartphones / tablet computers emerge as a standard platform for learning and learning support.

Affordability is a key issue in developing countries and we are seeing stakeholders drive this agenda forward in emerging markets, with, for example, the Indian government’s recently announced Android-powered ‘Aakash’ tablet for schoolchildren, which is expected to be available – subsidized – at around 35 US dollars.

Smartphone or tablet computer learning platforms leveraging cloud-computing technologies will grow in importance. Examples include Apple’s iCloud and Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet leveraging Amazon's cloud platform. Ubiquitous global access to the best-in-class learning materials will become a reality for millions of new learners.

Globally, manufacturing increasingly depends on the very short supply chain management processes that only the Internet can make possible.

The increasing availability of ubiquitous high-speed broadband connections and the establishment of an effective online presence will allow businesses – and particularly small businesses, and not-for-profit organizations – to participate in a global marketplace.

We are also seeing unprecedented collaboration online when it comes to research and development.

The innovative use of ICTs will also play a crucial role in ensuring the world’s seven billion people have affordable and equitable access to adequate food supplies.

This is true at every step of the process – from delivering the right information to farmers; to helping them improve yields and prices; to improving supply chain efficiencies; to ensuring that consumers understand nutritional needs, both for themselves and for their children.

Through smart grids, environmental sensors, intelligent transport systems, dematerialization and the digitalization of goods and services, and new ways of improving energy efficiency, we can help drive the transition to a low carbon economy, while better adapting to the effects of climate change.

Distinguished guests,

We should not forget, however, that two thirds of the world’s people still do not have any access to the Internet, and that the number of people worldwide with broadband access is still relatively small – even with the very rapid growth of new technologies such as mobile broadband.

This means that we risk creating a world of Internet rich and Internet poor; a world where the new broadband divide is even more worrying than the digital divide we had before ubiquitous mobile phones.

This is why ITU and UNESCO set up the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2010 – to encourage governments to implement national broadband plans and to increase access to broadband applications and services.

Broadband has the power to radically transform society and to deliver sustainable social and economic progress – through an environment of constant innovation and a wealth of job creation opportunities.

This is why broadband networks must be considered, in the 21st century, as basic infrastructure, just like roads, railways, water and power networks.

In a more populous, ageing world, broadband will be vital in helping to deliver essential services such as health, education and good government.

We must therefore work hard to ensure that everyone – wherever they live, and whatever their circumstances – has access to the benefits of broadband Internet.

This is not just about delivering connectivity for connectivity’s sake – or even about giving people access to the undoubted benefits of social communications.

There are those who argue that we do not need high-end technology to solve the world’s most pressing issues – such as hunger and poverty – and that these can be addressed by having enough people willing to help, and through the use of simple technology such as 2G mobile phones.

But without the broadband infrastructure humming away in the background, and without the power of large servers and big data storage capabilities, we can achieve very little.

SMS messages to remote and rural patients only work if there is a proper broadband network – and powerful computers – running in the background.

The same is true for enabling applications such as mobile banking, which is proving so very successful in bringing financial services to hundreds of millions of people previously excluded from the global financial system.

Additionally, at ITU we are doing a lot of work to facilitate access to ICTs for people with disabilities, notably in the area of standardization.

I think we all recognize that in the 21st century we will depend on ICTs to deliver inclusive and sustainable high-impact services to the peoples of the world – not just in developing countries, but in the developed world too.

At ITU we are optimists, and we expect us to witness the arrival of many, many new and positive developments in technology which we simply won’t have seen coming.

We are witnessing the fastest changes in human history – and we have within our grasp the greatest opportunities for sustainable social and economic development ever known.

So let’s seize those opportunities!

Thank you.