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Tue 3 Nov 2009 04:00 AM

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Global view

As head of the International Telecommunications Union, Dr Hamadoun Touré is committed to ensuring telecoms technology works for the good of people around the world.

Global view
Global view
Dr Touré stressed the importance of ensuring technology works for the benefit of people at the ITU’s Telecom World event in Geneva.

As head of the International Telecommunications Union, Dr Hamadoun Touré is committed to ensuring telecoms technology works for the good of people around the world.

While some of the latest developments in telecoms technology were on display in the exhibition hall at the ITU Telecom World event in Geneva last month, for the organisation’s secretary general, Dr Hamadoun Touré, the focus was firmly on collaboration at a more human level.

For Touré, the event, which takes place once every four years and brings together key stakeholders in the telecoms sector including government ministers, regulators and operators, is an ideal opportunity to help ensure that telecoms technology is working for the good of humanity.

To this end, this year’s event was focused on how the telecoms sector can tackle challenges including cyber security, global warming, international development and the economic crisis.

And while achieving these aims may appear to be a tough challenge, Touré believes the ITU is the organisation that is best placed to achieve this goal. “The ITU is the only organisation that can bring the public sector and private sector together, and it is the tradition of this organisation,” he says.

“We are older than the UN. In our 144 years of existence we have been adapting to new technologies and creating the tools and those were always created in a public private partnership.

“Our standards are in collaboration with the private sector and government and academia at the same time.”

Environmental pushIn terms of environmental issues including global warming, the ITU sees ICT as part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Indeed, despite the size of the ICT sector, it creates just 2.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions, but also offers “95% of the solution” according to Touré.

He adds that the telecoms sector has a duel role to play in combating climate change. Firstly the industry can cut its own carbon emissions, and secondly it can play a major role in helping other sectors cut their emissions.

“By using ICT you could reduce the global energy consumption by 15% and therefore it was very important to debate these issues at ITU this year,” Touré says.

He adds that the ICT sector will also become more efficient as networks move towards LTE and broadcasting goes digital. “By 2015 we are supposed to go fully to digital broadcasting which will mean a 40% saving in energy consumption in hundreds of thousands of radio transmitters and TV transmitters in the world, and those are goals set by the ITU,” he says.

Cyber threats

Despite the level of coverage that global warming commands, cyber security emerged as one of the most pressing issues at Telecom World.

While the ITU has long been focused on the issue, it continues to push cyber security as a major growing concern that could potentially threaten global stability.

“In terms of cyber security it is important that we put together an international framework because the criminals might not necessarily be on the crime scene.

ITU on regulation

At ITU Telecom World, Dr Hamadoun Touré said that the current financial crisis has shown the importance of the role of governments in creating a robust regulatory environment.

“The role of government is just that, putting the right regulatory framework so that the private sector in the ICT sector can evolve freely, and government will not only invest in putting the right regulatory framework but also capacity building,’ Dr Touré said.

“And there I can say that there is very good progress. Around the globe we have 153 countries where there is an independent regulatory authority today, from 10 in the year 2000.

“A lot of progress has been made and if the framework is there the regulators are exchanging best practice, so they will avoid making unnecessary mistakes.”

“The criminal knows no borders in cyberspace and therefore only an organisation like the ITU is capable of brokering an international deal as we have done in the past,” Touré says.

He adds that the ITU started to put together a framework about cyber security after his election to the post of secretary general back in 2006. This global cyber security framework attempts to look at the evolving issue of cyber security and address threats that could emerge in the coming years, such as cyber warfare, as ever more systems move online.

“Down the line we are going to make sure every country commits itself to put the necessary framework together, including legal, regulatory, organisational, technical, and capacity building issues.”

Touré adds that the ITU intends to implement a framework that will compel all nations agree to an international framework that commits them to not launch a cyber attack on another country first, to defend their citizens from cyber attacks and also ensure they are not harbouring any cyber criminals in their country.

“One can easily guess that the next world war will be in cyberspace, and we have to avoid that,” Touré says. “We know that the best way to win a war is to avoid it in the first place, and knowing the level of linkage that we have with ICT today, a cyberwar will be a catastrophe for all of us,” he adds.

Developing countriesBut while the world’s growing reliance on telecoms technology across all sectors creates vulnerabilities, Touré was also keen to use the ITU event as a chance to remind the sector how much it has achieved collectively in terms of social and economic development, particularly in developing countries in Africa.

It is a subject that Touré is particularly animated about, not least because ICT technology is benefiting poorer countries by creating business opportunities.

“ICT is a profitable sector, it is a win-win sector, so we are not using the word ‘help’ because we should give every country the chance to do business,” he says.

“Developing countries are coming here [to ITU Telecom World] to show what they are doing in terms of their regulatory environment, so that the private sector comes in with the confidence to invest, make a profit, and in the process create jobs. Everyone comes here in a true win-win partnership.”

Touré adds that this idea is behind Connect Africa, a global partnership to mobilise the human, financial and technical resources needed to bridge gaps in ICT infrastructure across Africa, backed by organisations including the ITU, the African Union, the World Bank Group and the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development.

He says that the philosophy behind the organisation was to focus on creating partnerships with private enterprises to invest in ICT projects in Africa that will in turn help create business opportunities for local entrepreneurs.

“Our philosophy was that we are not here to ask for assistance, help or charity, because we have not seen any country developing from that or even getting out of poverty from that,” Touré says.

Connect Africa encourages private enterprises to invest in Africa and make a fair profit from projects that also benefit local economies, create jobs, and help stimulate further development.

“As a result of that there was a commitment of $55 billion investment for the next six years, between 2007 and 2012,” Touré says.

“To my great satisfaction, one year later in 2008, there was a total investment of $8 billion in Africa in the ICT sector. This means we will be able to meet the millennium development goals, making sure that every citizen on this planet is connected.”

Tackling cyber threats

The ITU demonstrated the world’s most advanced system against global cyber attacks at last month’s Telecom World event in Geneva.

IMPACT (the International Multilateral Partnership against Cyber Threats) set up its Global Response Centre in Malaysia earlier this year as the international community’s foremost cyber threat resource, to track and defend against cyber threats.

Anuj Singh, director of the GRC, demonstrated the centre’s alert and response capabilities including an Early Warning System that enables IMPACT members to identify and head-off potential and imminent attacks before they can inflict damage on national networks. The GRC also offers a framework for countries to collaborate and respond effectively to cyber threats.

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