Connectivity and collaboration in the ICT industry: the key to socio-economic development

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From left to right, Mr. Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary General; Air Chief Marshal Prajin Juntong, Deputy Prime Minister; Dr. Uttama Savanayana, Minister of Information and Communication Technology; and Air Chief Marshal Thares Punsri, Chairman of Office of The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), Thailand. © Pico (Thailand) Pcl.

Why is it so important to ensure that as many people in the world as possible have access to information and communication technologies? And why does collaboration within and across the ICT industry matter so much in driving socio-economic development?

These questions are at the very heart of ITU Telecom World 2016, the annual platform for governments, corporates and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) within the ICT industry. Organized by ITU, the United Nation’s specialized agency for ICT matters, and taking place this year in Bangkok, Thailand, from 14 – 17 November, ITU Telecom World features an international exhibition of digital solutions, a world-class forum of debates, a programme of targeted networking activities and an Awards programme recognizing the best in innovative ICT solutions with social impact.

On the agenda in the forum, on the stands and pavilions in the exhibition and amongst the networking leaders of governments and businesses big and small, the focus will be on working together to speed up innovation in ICTs to improve lives everywhere.

ICTs are the cross-cutting enablers behind sustainable development throughout the world, in emerging and developed markets alike. This means, quite simply, that ICTs are the essential backbone, the infrastructure behind development in economies, businesses, societies and homes everywhere. The transformative potential for ICTs is unprecedented: from e-health to e-education, digital financial services to e-government, agriculture and transport, there is not one vertical sector or field of activity which does not both rely on and benefit from ICTs.

The Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the global community in September 2015, set a new international agenda for the period up to 2030 – and recognize the enormous potential of ICTs in improving development outcomes worldwide.  Not just by measuring progress and enhancing the effectiveness of initiatives designed to meet the SDGs, but by providing access to a whole range of new digital products and services which can grow local economies, build on local innovation and strengthen local communities.

Millions of children currently without access to primary level schooling; millions of deaths from easily-preventable non-communicable diseases; millions of unbanked or underbanked living outside national economies;  those without adequate basic sanitation, without access to water or electricity, let alone to government services – innovative ICT-based solutions can meet all of these challenges.

Providing connectivity is the key: once everyone is connected, the speed of progress towards attaining the SDGS will be extraordinary, as emerging technologies such as IoT, artificial intelligence, robotics and data-driven innovation truly take off on a global scale.

Getting everyone connected, however, is not so straightforward. More than half the world’s people are still offline, and the ICT sector’s commitment to connecting an additional 1.5 billion by 2020 is highly ambitious. It calls for innovative approaches to universal connectivity to tackle the multiple barriers of access, affordability, education and relevance.

Building out networks, whether fixed, fibre, mobile, satellite, wifi, or any combination thereof, is the first step in providing access to the unconnected. The price of handsets, of network access and of products and services must be affordable for local communities.  And to be useful and sustainable both socially and financially, those products and services must be relevant to local needs and practices – in local languages, offering content that is valued and understood by local users. Finally, educating end-users disadvantaged by remote locations, illiteracy, gender or age, and increasing skills and capacity in local communities, are critical to ensure internet take-up and entry into the digital economy.

The barriers are huge, the challenges significant – but the potential benefits to humanity are enormous. This is why connectivity is so important. It is also why the theme of ITU Telecom World 2016 is so pertinent: “Collaborating in the digital economy”.

Because no one can do this alone. The private sector building out the networks, providing the equipment, products and services is reliant on government policies, on financial incentives, on supportive regulation. Public private partnerships are often the only solution to increasing access in remote or underserved regions.

Within the private sector, the ongoing radical transformation of the ICT industry also calls for new partnerships, new business models and new approaches. A complex mix of factors is coming together: the rise of internet companies providing services over operator networks; the growth of SMEs throughout the world working in niche or innovative areas; new markets in the borderless digital global economy; new technologies and customer behaviours, from social media to 5G and IoT; and the collision of markets, ways of doing business, cultures and mindsets as ICTs cross into vertical sectors such as health, agriculture and education.

Which is why collaboration within and across the global ICT ecosystem is so crucial. Working together in one way or another is the only way to extend connectivity, expand access and drive socio-economic development. It’s the only way to meet the SDGs and improve the lives of the world’s citizens everywhere.

This is also why events such as ITU Telecom World 2016 are so important. By providing a meeting point and market place for the governments, regulators, international organizations and companies, both corporate and SME, of the world, the event opens the door to partnerships. To exchanging views and perspectives, to understanding challenges and needs, to debating policies, strategies and models. To meeting face-to-face to meet the needs of the world, now and in the future.

To find out more about ITU Telecom World 2016, its full programme of debates, exhibits and activities, and to register to take part, visit telecomworld.itu.int.

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