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3.9 billion people lack access to ICT, ITU calls for change

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU)’s Telecom World 2017 conference opened Monday with an urgent call on governments as well as local and global ICT players to work together and connect the 3.9 billion people who lack ICT access in the world today.

ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao, who made the call at the grand opening ceremony, observed that whereas it was refreshing to note that 95 per cent of the world today has mobile connections, it is sad to note 3.9 billion people were yet to be connected.

He said this year’s ITU Telecom World, taking place in Busan, South Korea under the theme “Better. Sooner. Together”, was therefore dedicated, among other things, to forging business to business as well as business to government partnerships as part of the drive to connect the unconnected.

Houlin Zhao noted that special attention would also be paid to small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) in the ICT industry because they are doing a lot to connected the unserved and underserved and ITU is seeking mainstream them to drive that agenda strongly.

Indeed, from Ghana, the government recently announced a novelty authorization for telcos to use their 900MHz 2G spectrum to deploy Universal Mobile Telecommunication Systems (UMTS) and provide affordable 3G service in the unserved and underserved areas.

Government is giving this authorization for free to the telcos, and the telcos themselves have said that deploying UMTS on 900MHz is much cheaper than deploying same on the 2100MHz originally licensed to them for 3G.

The telcos say they are therefore happy to apply for the authorization and deploy 3G to the unconnected areas of the country, in line ITU’s vision of connecting the unconnected 3.9 billion people of the world.

Again, team Ghana, at the ITU would be showcasing the e-Transform agenda, which is a national drive towards digitizing all state institutions and digitalizing services from the state to citizens.

Part of that agenda would be to digitalize citizens records in order for the government to serve them better.

Also at this year’s ITU conference in Busan is the Wireless Applications Service Providers Association of Ghana (WASPAG), which is a group of tech SMEs using affordable mobile technologies to deliver services in both privileged and less privileged communities.

WASPAG is at the ITU conference to take advantage of ITU’s focus on SMEs to showcase what they do as separate entities to ensure digital inclusion, particularly their mobile health service that brings health professional to the doorstep of customers at very affordable rates.

Other participants from Ghana are GCNet, Subah Ghana, Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications (GIFEC) and National Information Technology Agency (NITA).

South African Minister of Telecoms and Postal Services, Siyabonga Cyprian Cwele announced that South Africa is ready to host ITU Telecom World 2018 “not just because of South Africa but it is time the ITU comes to Africa.”

He noted that the ITU cannot quite be global unless its global conference comes to Africa and the time is now.

Siyabonga Cwele said Africa is now on the move as far as ICT and mobile technologies are concerned, and the continent remains the leading investment destination in the world, offering the most promising investment opportunities.

He, therefore, urged the world, through ITU, to “come to Africa through South Africa and join the movement.”

Hungary also offered to host the ITU Telecom World in 2019.

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