Committed to connecting the world


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

  Canadian Wireless Telecommunication Association Wireless Antenna Siting Forum  

 The Challenges of Extending the Benefits of Mobile

Closing Keynote Speech   

01 May 2012, Ottawa, Canada

Distinguished Colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here with you in Ottawa this afternoon – amongst a group of people who, like me, share the conviction that wireless mobile communications have delivered, and will continue to deliver, profound and lasting social and economic benefits to our world.

You – and people like you around the world – have done a fantastic job.

By investing hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure and services and creating millions of jobs globally, you have succeeded in bridging the digital divide.

In just twenty years or so we have seen an extraordinary transition from a world where most people did not have access to even basic telecommunications, to a world where we have more than six billion mobile cellular subscriptions, and where over 2.4 billion people use the Internet.

Together, we have created a hyperconnected world – and we should all be proud of the way that connectivity has been brought within reach of virtually all the world’s people.

It is unfortunate, then, that this great success story is today being muddied by ongoing debate about ITU’s and the UN’s role in the future of the Internet.

You will, I am sure, have seen and read various media articles talking about the UN or the ITU trying to take over the Internet.

Let me say quite plainly and clearly: This is simply ridiculous.

So let’s turn down the volume, and have a rational discussion.

Ladies and gentlemen,

These articles are making reference to a very important meeting that will take place in Dubai in December: the World Conference on International Telecommunications, WCIT.

At ITU we believe that WCIT will be the catalyst for the future development of ICTs – just like the 1988 conference that agreed the present International Telecommunication Regulations, the ITRs.

The ITU, like the UN, is made up of all Member States. As the ITU Secretary-General, my mandate and work programme comes from the entire membership.

We provide a global platform for all governments to debate these issues. We also have members from industry that are part of the debate – this includes many companies from both Canada and the United States.

The 1988 changes paved the way for market liberalization and the spectacular growth that we have seen in our sector – including the ‘mobile miracle’ and the global spread of the Internet.

ITU’s membership did a great job of preparing for future needs in 1988 – and we are confident that they will do so again in 2012.

In the broadest terms, this means governments and industry will come together in Dubai to lay the foundations for a broadband-enabled future, for everyone.

Distinguished colleagues,

So much has changed since the 1988 revisions – so the global policy and regulatory framework needs to be updated.

How this happens, depends on our members.

What I can say today, however, is that I expect a light-touch regulatory approach to emerge.

What do I mean by this?

What I mean is establishing broad, forward-looking principles that support a transparent, efficient framework for investment. This is in all of our interest: governments, business and consumers.

We need to reach consensus on balanced and predictable rules to ensure fair competition and to stimulate innovation and the spread of information and communication technologies (ICTs).

There are many important issues that may be addressed at WCIT, but I would like to focus on one broader issue in particular: how do we ensure sufficient investment in broadband network infrastructure?

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona two months ago, the GSMA estimated that US$ $800 billion would be needed in mobile infrastructure investment by 2015 to handle the rapidly-growing demands of mobile broadband users.

These massive investments will help bring the Internet to billions of people in the developing world – as well as to the rural and remote areas of Canada, including northern and aboriginal communities.

This will not just improve services to these communities, of course, but will also help create local new job opportunities.

Unfortunately, many national policy and regulatory regimes were not designed with the current shift from voice to data-centric networks and services in mind.

And, the current ITRs are not properly equipped to deal with this challenge either, which raises the question of how all this new infrastructure will be paid for?

ITU is working with its members to adapt to this changing landscape, by leveraging tools such as infrastructure sharing, spectrum allocation, licensing regimes and so on.

I am pleased to note as well that the recent World Radiocommunication Conference, WRC-12, made important advances in this regard.

Indeed, as you will know, mobile broadband requirements were addressed in some detail – and the decisions of WRC-12 in this respect are a clear message to governments and industry of the importance placed by membership on the role of wireless in making broadband accessible to all.

WRC-12 also addressed the issue of the digital dividend, and this now provides for a great deal of global harmonization of the use of the 700 MHz band for all regions by the services which most need it.

From an ITU perspective, a key challenge is to make spectrum allocations globally available, and the decision of WRC-12 to include a specific agenda item for WRC-15 on this matter addresses this specific issue.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Everyone wants mobile broadband and the benefits it will bring. But few seem willing to pay for it – including both the over-the-top players, who are generating vast new demand through their applications, and consumers, who have become accustomed to unlimited packages.

This is putting tremendous pressure on mobile operators, who need to invest in high-capacity broadband networks in order to maintain quality of service as demand rises.

At the same time, as broadband becomes increasingly viewed as basic infrastructure for social and economic development, operators are being asked to extend the reach of their networks to under-served populations.

These are strategic, bottom-line issues, and we need to be talking about them.

To lay the groundwork for a constructive, substantive debate at WCIT, we have to move beyond the rhetoric and the fear of the unknown, and roll up our sleeves to tackle these issues head-on, together.

This means bringing together governments and industry players from around the world, for constructive debate.

This is happening in part through an ITU Working Group that is preparing draft texts for the WCIT. In addition, I am consulting industry members around the world. That is a major part of why I am in Canada this week - to meet with and listen to our industry members. 

Some are now considering how forward-looking ITR revisions could respond to industry needs.

Two weeks ago, a meeting of the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association (ETNO) concluded with ETNO’s Chairman of the Executive Board, Luigi Gambardella, saying:

“The current ITRs have been a great success and have allowed us to get to where we are today in terms of Internet growth. However, today's Internet business models are becoming unsustainable in the face of an exponential growth in data traffic. We need to address the current disconnect between sources of revenue and sources of costs and decide upon the most appropriate way to do so.”

I hope that here in Canada, as well as in the United States, that similar debate will emerge that focuses on the core needs of our industry.

Expectations are high, but the stakes are even higher.

If we get it wrong, we are likely to see declining quality of service and even network outages, as demand for applications outstrips our capacity to roll out network infrastructure.

But if we get it right, we will find a fair way to finance the broadband infrastructure the world needs – and we will create the conditions for a new era of ICT-enabled growth and opportunity for billions of people around the world.

So let’s get it right – for the benefit of all!

Thank you.