Founded in1865, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations (UN) specialised agency for information and communication technologies, brings together the key players of the industry to debate new challenges and set global standards to follow. According to Hamadoun Touré, secretary general of the ITU, the organisation aims to make communication a basic human need, not a human right.
“We are talking about the infrastructure or the access. We see it as a basic need, like roads, water, and electricity,” Touré told CommsMEA.
Touré notes that ICT is feeding all aspects of development,and it is an essential tool to help to meet the UN millennium development goals, whether it is part of e-health, e-education or e-commerce.
“When we talk about poverty alleviation, we talk about wealth creation, job creation, youth, women empowerment, environmental sustainability — it is all related to ICT.”
According to Touré, operators and governments should aim for the same objective, which is the protection of the consumers. In order to achieve this, he promotes dialogue between operators and governmentto achieve this target.
Over-taxation ofcustomers by the telecommunications sector is a constant concern for Touré. “In some countries, the taxation is directly on the terminals so the cost of the mobile handset can be too high,” he said.
Touré has talked with several countries and has advised them to reduce taxes. “I flew to two countries where the SIM card activation was three times the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU). I tried to convince them to stop doing that and I succeed with the minister of Finance to reduce by two thirds these taxes and maintain only one third. At the end of the year, they got their [revenue] target because the number of users tripled,” he commented. “Don’t overtax the sector, otherwise it cannot be used as a tool for other sectors. If you [the government] overtax this sector, it is not going to work and therefore the rest of the economy will suffer. We need to achieve the right balance."
The ITU is also focusing its efforts to make sure that there is enough investment in broadband infrastructure. “More money is made directly by providing services and developing applications. The content has more money than the infrastructure,” said Touré. He pointed out that the content will not be able to flow if there is not enough infrastructure.
The secretary general admits it is“very tricky” to find a solution between operators and content developers, as some of the OTTs do not want to be regulated on the new market that they are entering.
“The truth is that, sometimes, [OTTs] enter into a market and they want to break all the barriers. We believe that the telecom sector has done well so far because of the very low pressure, the light regulation,” he said.
Another challenge that Touré highlighted is the spectrum, as telecom operators are concerned about securing more spectrum.
With these two main challenges in mind, Touré wants the operators and regulators to face the difficulties and find a “fruitful scenario” for all. When asked about how countries are performing, Touré said that all countries are following the recommendations. However, several countries in the region still have some restrictions on the spectrum as they claim that the military is using the frequency.
Touré is confident that the frequency challenge will be solved in time as it is technical problem. “Every technical problem has a solution, but there are political problems that don’t necessarily have a solution,” he noted.
Touré is sceptical when talking about 5G arriving in the region in 2020, as some operators are forecasting.
“When people do a mega investment, they need to depreciate it, so you don’t change from 4G to 5G immediately. I think that we have to balance,” he noted.
LTE and 4G are still being tested, Touré said, and its capabilities are still being assessed. The secretary-general thinks that LTE has “all the characteristics that we are looking for in terms of high speed, bandwidth, but also, most importantly, the low latency. Some people have 4G LTE but they don’t have the low latency requirement that we [ITU] have and also the way that it has been done enables also a more efficient use of the spectrum. To reach the same speed you need a lower bandwidth. That is a thing that needs to be put in place.”