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Ministerial Roundtable: Transforming the ICT sector

telecomworld 2017 Daily Highlights 2

Infrastructure, investment, innovation and inclusiveness are the four factors fundamental to ensuring universal access and advancing smart digital transformation, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao reminded speakers at the first Ministerial Roundtable session at ITU Telecom World 2017. Unless we can provide connectivity for all, leaving no one behind, smart digital ecosystems will simply generate more exclusion.

No one should be excluded from the benefits of future developments, where new technologies such as the cloud, 5G, IoT and AI, are bringing “a paradigm shift not only in social and economic sectors, but across the lives of all citizens,” explained Chang Whan Ma, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Science and ICT, Korea. And it’s happening at pace we could never have anticipated: “The future we imagined is being realized faster than we predicted. Imagination is becoming reality with the help of cutting-edge services and applications.”

He outlined Korea’s policy efforts to support the transformation and development of the ICT sector and respond to the fourth industrial revolution, including creating an encouraging environment to nurture creativity and innovation, as well as establishing an industrial ecosystem spearheaded by SMEs. The ultimate aim of transformation is the creation of future-proof jobs based on new ICT technologies, economic revitalization and ongoing growth.

He stressed the importance of placing humans in the centre of future societies, sharing benefits without discrimination and implementing policy to ensure no one is left out of digital transformation.  Korea is committed to working together with other nations to share its knowledge and experiences, to address global agendas, and to move together towards a sustainable and inclusive society with global prosperity.

“Accelerating ICT development means enriching the future,” according to Jianjun Zhou, Vice President of Carrier Business BG, Huawei. “ICT is not just about technologies and the telecom industry, but also about society, the economy and all industries. ICT is not hype, it is the hyper energy of the economic and business revolution.”

There is no doubt of the significant contribution ICT makes to economic growth, productivity and people’s well-being in all markets throughout the world. Providing the necessary physical, human and policy resources necessary to connect people, homes, governments and enterprises is critical to development and human happiness. But given that more 3 billion people globally have no access to broadband connection, it is imperative that we act now, and act together, to address the digital gap.

Encouraging the enhanced investment so urgently required in emerging markets means establishing a lower-risk environment, offering faster returns on investment, and providing an enabling policy and regulatory environment, including innovative thinking on taxation and opening up infrastructure sites.

He urged all stakeholders to be proactive and collaborative in developing ICTs, innovative solutions and equipment to serve different scenarios in the best way possible, creating services that are “valuable but affordable” and addressing both supply and demand – a mobile government service, for example, should be accompanied by a programme to enhance digital awareness.

Echoing this call for cooperation across sectors and nations, Minette Libom Li Likeng, Minister of Posts and Telecommuncations of Cameroon, outlined her country’s ambition to become a technological leader and Central African hub by partnering with the private sector to raise the contribution of ICTs to the economy up to 10% by 2020, facilitating the creation of many new jobs.

Cameroon’s experience in digital content such as e-banking, e-health and e-agriculture, as well as good international connectivity, young population, and nascent culture of digital entrepreneurship offer much to prospective investors. Young people in Cameroon are already active and creative in the digital world, she continued, setting up startups even without an enabling framework. Cooperation from the ITU, investors and international partners is essential to increase the rate of transformation.

Digital transformation is driven by political will, the Minister noted, ensuring that collaboration happens within and across government departments, ministries and agencies, as well as with external private sector partners providing investment. Sharing knowledge and expertise across nations is also important, such as Korea’s help in establishing an e-procurement system for government in Cameroon.

“Some countries are ahead, some have done very well, but we cannot be left behind,” she continued, calling for further investment and assistance from those more advanced in the process of digital transformation.

The contrast between countries at different stages on the journey to transformation can be a source of inspiration and an opportunity to share good practice. In the words of Monchito Ibrahim, Under-Secretary, Department of Information and Communications, Philippines, “To be in a smart city as advanced as Busan is as good as time-travelling for us. It’s a benchmark of what could be possible, a yardstick for digital maturity.”

The challenge is in part one of making both government and people aware of the opportunities of ICTs, big data, and smart cities in the Philippines.  “The one and only way to a smart nation is a smart government that works as one with its citizens,” he said, outlining the need to set up reliable infrastructure for seamless data sharing across government, promote transparent e government and fragment the silos of government departments.

“The pace of technology waits for no one, but government can help make us ready for this brave new world, looking to learn from other countries for more reliable infrastructure and to build ICT-enabled sectors,” he continued. The IT sector excluding telecoms already contributes 8% of GDP, primarily through the services sector, a figure which will rise to 15% by 2022: how much bigger would the sector be if broadband connection was better?

For Elmir Tofig oglu Velizadeh, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Transport, Communications and High Technologies of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the crucial role of ICTs in changing individual lives and the economy is reflected in the huge investment made in infrastructure, cloud technology and services.  Azerbaijan uses technology in all areas of development, state, society and economy.

He echoed the importance of government as a key agent in driving digital transformation, and of sharing information in international fora such as this roundtable. “Government can speed up the process of ICT development with government initiatives and by creating a favourable environment for cooperation with the private sector, as well as by studying international best practice, forwarding important projects and sharing experience regionally.”

International collaboration is increasingly significant, given both the advent of radically transformative technologies such as AI, 5G, automation and IoT, and the need to avoid further deepening the digital divide between developed and developing nations.

Jailini Bin Johari, Deputy Minister of Communications and Multimedia in Malaysia, pointed out that disruption is, after all, nothing new. The transformation of the ICT sector which began some 20 years ago with liberalization has not stopped, but has continued on a journey through reform, convergence, new regulations, new licensing regimes, the arrival of the internet and restructuring. As broadband networks and the digital economy continue to grow, the process of transformation is unlikely to stop.

Policy-makers must be flexible and pragmatic as the ICT sector both transforms itself, and facilitates transformation in other sectors.  He shared Malaysia’s target of expanding broadband coverage to 95% of its geography, which will allow the internet economy to grow and new ideas to be exchanged, with ICTs representing 20% of the economy by 2020.

“We must facilitate international e commerce and internet-based innovation, continue to embrace the digital economy and connectivity, and address the widening digital divide,” he said, as well as introducing policy and regulatory approaches which are conducive to private sector investment in infrastructure, the development of affordable communication services and ensuring that consumers benefit from innovation.

As the largest market in South East Asia, the government of Indonesia is aiming for a digital market worth USD130 billion dollars by 2020, built in part by some 1 000 startups, explained Rudiantara, Minister of Communications and Information Technology.  Its priorities include reducing the cost of logistics in the archipelago, which is as much as 20% of national GDP; ensuring consumer protection; encouraging innovation; and a fair taxation policy in response to the move from a goods-based economy to a services-based one.

The challenge of ensuring connectivity has been met by the application of USO schemes, reducing internal bureaucracy, and encouraging private sector investment.  The main concerns of the country are customer service, rights and obligations for security and tax issues as new market entrants from overseas offer content and services over local networks. “The issue of the internet going beyond borders needs to be discussed at international level,” he added.

“The main priority of the government in Belarus is to ensure balanced economic growth to improve the quality of life of the nation’s people,“ stated H.E. Sergei Popkov, Minster of Communications and Informatization.

The ICT sector is recognized as the main driver of future economic growth and development, and “the development of the information society and effective digital transformation of the country are viewed as tasks of national importance,” requiring coordination and integration of state, businesses and civil society.

He added that Belarus has already achieved all Connect 2020 measures, and that by the end of 2018 all last mile infrastructure will be finished, meaning all residents of the country will have broadband internet access, enabling the government to provide a variety of ICT services for the population in the future.