Under the theme of Accelerating Innovation for Social Impact, the discussions at ITU Telecom World 2015 examined, during last week in Budapest, key developments and trends in technology, regulatory and policy issues, business models, services and applications. Every year, The International Telecommunications Union organizes ITU Telecom World, a not-for-profit neutral platform to accelerate ICT innovation for social and economic development through exhibiting solutions, sharing knowledge and networking. ITU Telecom World 2015 took place in Budapest, Hungary, from 12 to 15 October. ITU is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), driving innovation in ICTs together with 193 Member States and over 700 private sector entities.
One of the debates during the ITU Telecom Conference was about the world of possibilities opened up by the ICT technologies. Where are the opportunities and who are the winners right now? What are the regulatory, cultural and interoperability challenges as we move away from narrow industry silos into arenas of activity with multiple players?
The new realities born in the light of a new interconnected digital ecosystems were discussed in depth in Budapest. Carlos Lopez Blanco, Global Head of Public Affairs and Regulation of Telefónica, put on the table some of the responses to the above questions during the debate. He pointed out that the opportunities provided by the digital ecosystem has in a first stance an economic face because it affects all industries. Firstly, it highly improved operational efficiency. Cloud technology, for example, has the potential to improve productivity. It is estimated that the total economic impact of cloud technology could be$1.7 trillion to $6.2 trillion annually in 2025.
On the other hand, the digital ecosystem fosters innovation across sectors. Big Data will be a driver for innovation and economic growth. For instance, these technology and services markets in Western Europe have been predicted to grow from €1.8 billion in 2013 to €5.3 billion in 2018. And the new connected ecosystems, which blur traditional industry boundaries and processes, create new opportunities and also challenges. Which new realities would create 50 billion “connected things”?
All in all, these huge opportunities can benefit every country, and in this way receive the benefits of the Digital Economy: higher GDP growth, greater employment or higher productivity or improved public services.
However, the challenge is above all to reduce the digital divide worldwide. Which is the roadmap to connect the 4Bn people not connected to the Internet, most of them, living in developing countries? Carlos López Blanco advocated in favor of three axisupon which a broad agreement is needed: how to foster investment, how to make services affordable, and how to improve digital skills. Let us go deeper into them: regarding investments, Carlos López Blanco pledged for a bold support by public policies, providing confidence and security to investors, mainly through a predictable and stable regulatory environment for broadband investments and a level playing field for all companies in the Digital Ecosystem. This would invigorate the needful public-private partnerships to improve the connectivity to remote regions. Affordability of digital services and products is also crucial. Thus, it could get better by using new technologies and adopting open standards. Finally, it is obvious that people have to know how to use Internet and other digital services. All, public and private entities, need to work together to improve digital skill levels and abolish this Digital Divide.
The second issue during the debate was related to regulatory, cultural and interoperability challenges as we move away from narrow industry silos into arenas of activity with multiple players. Here, there are three main ideas: certainty, a level playing field for all companies in the Digital Ecosystem and a flexible and investment-friendly regulatory environment. All these, of course, need to be accompanied by policies that promote dynamic outcomes, such as investment and innovation, and be taken into account consumers’ demand. We should not forget either the importance of spectrum availability for society and communications.
The cultural challenge is more complex to analyze because it has also a regional and even a local face. However, there are some trends that could be understood under a global perspective: people today expect to have information available 24 hours per day and 7 days per week, share and express their opinions immediately and, of course, communicate with friends. This is an expression of the birth of a digital society with a new mindset and expectations. Indeed, a study developed by Telefónica in 2013 revealed that:
- 81% of users considered that the Operating Systems of their mobile is important
- 71% of consumers felt to having lost control on how businesses obtain and use their personal data
- 0% wanted to be able to transfer information from one Operating System to another
Interoperability is a key issue to understand the future developments of the digital ecosystem because today many fast growing Internet Service Providers are offering services that are not interconnected, not interoperable nor based on open standards. This can be a source of concern, especially when such behavior can restrict competition and innovation and limit consumers’ freedom.
It is hard to imagine a world in which you are unable to send an e-mail or an SMS to another person simply because he or she is using a different e-mail service or mobile network. The reason why e-mails and SMS can be sent and received worldwide, regardless of the mobile operator or device, is because both are based on international and open standards, making them interoperable on a global scale.
In contrast, popular Messaging Services like WhatsApp, Viber or Line are based on proprietary systems that do not allow for such interconnected experience. In other words, consumers cannot send a message from one of these services to another because each service only works between users of the same service. The same is true for Voice-over-IP telephony: calling from one VoIP service like Skype to another is not possible either. Users can just speak to others who use the same service.
In this regard, Carlos López Blanco highlighted that telecom operators are bound by a regulatory framework designed for interoperability and other principles, such as transparency or security.
Finally, it is to say that all participants gathered by the ITU in this new edition of the Telefom Forum have a common goal: connect the unconnected. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stressed it in the inaugural session and urged the participants to “consider what more you [they] can do to ensure universal connectivity, close the digital divide, open doors to knowledge and ensure the full participation of women and girls in the ever growing digital economy in support of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.”