The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is meeting in Durban to thrash out issues around spectrum, connectivity and regulations. Kathy Gibson reports


ITU meeting opens in Durban

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) today kicked off ITU Telecom World, hosted by South Africa in Durban.

“Everyone deserves the benefits of a modern connected life,” says Rob Shuter, group president and CEO of MTN.

“I’ve seen how connectivity has changed the lives of people in all our markets,” he adds.

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Ramaphosa promises a new dawn for telecommunications

A strong call for co-operation and policy certainty is already emerging at the ITU Telecom World taking place in Durban this week.

Houlin Zhao, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, calls for co-operation by all nations in ensuring access to connectivity for the world’s population.

“This is the opportunity for African countries to make their voices count and shape development in the next decade and beyond,” he says.

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Africa and the road to inclusive connectivity

In just 20 years, African telecommunications has gone from almost non-existent to a level where just about everyone has a phone today.

“The situation in Africa was terrible, but there has been a marvellous change,” says Houlin Zhao, ITU secretary-general.

While big companies have largely been instrumental in making this change, SMEs are key to future growth on the continent, Zhao adds.

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Can Africa leapfrog to 5G?

5G is vital to building new societies and achieving the fourth industrial revolution – and developing countries could benefit the most by leapfrogging straight to 5G.

This is the word from, Mario Maniewicz, deputy director of the Radiocommunication Bureau, chairing the first panel of the ITU Telecom World conference opening in Durban today.

Naysayers may believe that 5G is not necessary for emerging markets, but IT development in Africa is vital, says Abdoulkarim Soumaila, secretary-general of the African Telecommunications Union.

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Liquid Telecoms reaches from Cape to Cairo

Liquid Telecom has gone live with a “Cape to Cairo” network that links 13 countries and 660 towns along the length of the continent.

Currently, pan-African trade accounts for just 18% of the continent’s business; and a network like this is expected to help stimulate additional trade, says Reshaad Sha, CEO of Liquid Telecom South Africa.

“Our network has helped to form new information corridors that link the region’s major trade hubs,” he adds.

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Call for industry to fight discrimination

Altron chief executive Mteto Nyati has called on the IT and telecommunications industries to make a stand against discrimination in all its forms.

Speaking at the welcoming reception of ITU Telecom World, Nyati expressed concern about anti-globalisation feeling that is driving discrimination.

“I’m concerned about noises that are beginning to emerge, and the globalisation trend is facing a major threat.”

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Why developing markets pay more for connectivity

Spectrum prices are high around the world, but developing countries are actually charging telcos more than their counterparts in the developed world.

The issue of spectrum pricing has been a thorny one for as long as auctions have dramatically inflated the costs paid out by telcos, says Houlin Zhao, secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

He believes that auctions create unequal pricing structures. And, with massive amounts going to government, little is left for mobile operators to invest in their own infrastructures.

It’s not realistic to have free spectrum, Zhao says, but frequently the auction is not viable either, he says.

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Government key to ubiquitous access

ICT has become a cornerstone of many countries’ economies, but governments need to do more to make it a reality for all citizens.

This is the word from Jianjun Zhou, vice-president of carrier business BG and vice-president: emerging market of Huawei, who says: “Digitalisation is now about life, communities and the economy of the country.”

Worldwide, 3,4-billion people live without Internet access – and 830-million of these are in Africa.

Mobile connectivity is still not available to 870-million worldwide, of which 660-million are in Africa.

There are 1,1-billion households worldwide without broadband connections, with 250-million of these in Africa

“So you can see we still have a big job,” says Zhou. “However, businesses are reluctant to invest in the region.”

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Where does the world stand on broadband?

As connectivity moves towards attaining status as a basic human right, more governments are benchmarking the status of broadband in their countries.

A new report from the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development shows that at least 15 countries now include artificial intelligence (AI) as part of their national broadband plans.

The report, The State of Broadband: Broadband Catalyzing Sustainable Development, highlights the critical role that broadband connectivity plays for the world’s people, from accessing online health services to receiving social security payments via mobile phones to receiving life-saving disaster warnings.

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Ghana is connected and open for business

Ghana is open for business, and is creating an enabling digital environment to make this a reality.

In fact, connectivity should be considered a civic right, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, minister of communications in Ghana.

“It is imperative that all citizens benefit from digitalisation,” she adds. “The digital divide threatens the most vulnerable in our communities.”

Ghana recently embarked on a digital agenda of infrastructure development, with broadband connectivity for the underserved and unserved at the heart of its agenda.

“As we scale up our digitalisation effort, ICT is playing a huge role,” she says.

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Fixed wireless and the promise of universal access

Fixed wireless access (FWA) is not particularly well-represented in the connectivity arsenal, but could prove to be a key tool in achieving universal broadband coverage.

“We are seeing strong demand for high-speed broadband,” says Matthew Reed, practice leader: Middle East and Africa at Ovum. “There is pressure to extend it and this is opening up new opportunities for FWA.”

Reed was speaking at the Huawei-sponsored ICT Ministerial Forum held alongside ITU Telecom World.

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The divide is no longer simply between emerging economies and the rest of the world: Africa on the whole is rapidly adopting new technologies and deploying networks as good as any in the world. Instead, a new gap between well-serviced urban centres and under-serviced or completely unconnected rural areas is creating a new digital and economic divide.

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