World technology leaders try to predict the future

Upwards of 30 chief technology officers (CTOs) met this past Monday in Geneva, at a side event to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). Attendees agreed on some defining principles for next generation information and communication technologies (ICT), but fell short on specifics. Global

standards emerged as a recurring theme in the discussions, and the participants view this as vital to the future of ICT.

The CTO’s expressed growing confidence that the telecoms industry is emerging from a tough period and that this is being driven by the market pull for services that comes from a real convergence of information, computing and telecoms technologies. They agreed that ITU is in a unique position to drive the overall framework and the globalisation of standards.

The CTOs at the conference work for these companies: Alcatel, Amena, Apnic, Belgacom, Broadcom, BT, China Mobile, China Netcom, China Unicom, Coptac, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, ETRI, France Telecom, Huawei Technologies, IBM, Ikanos, Infineon, Intel, Korea Telecom, Lucent Technologies, Maltacom Group, Nokia, Nominum, Nortel Networks, NTT, NTT Comware, Orange, RAD Data Communications, Rostelcom, Samsung, Siemens, Softbank, Sotelma, Sun Microsystems, Swisscom, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, Telenor, Thuraya, Vodafone and ZTE. Government representatives from Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ecuador, Syria and Malaysia were also present.

ICT CTOs at the conference also drafted what they called a “”vision statement”” outlining the future of ICT. The CTO’s statement will be input into later stages of the WSIS process. However, the statement was not made available to the media.

Houlin Zhao, director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB), and organizer of the event said the value of this unprecedented meeting cannot be overstated. This meeting of minds has the potential to have real influence on the development of ICT. Consensus at this level stands to benefit not just industry but the whole of society.

While the CTOs stopped short on specifics, WSIS regulators at the conference did identify a series of steps nations can take to bridge the digital divide. They called upon countries to open their ICT sectors to greater competition. They further identified the kinds of regulations and practices needed to promote universal access to ICT services.

The regulators, from more than 80 countries, prepared a blueprint of what should be done to ensure that global access to the tools of communication is extended to all of humanity.

Unlike the CTOs, the regulators were open to revealing the blueprint. The group agreed on a list of best practice regulatory guidelines for achieving universal access. The guidelines call for support for regulatory reform at the highest level of government. This means treating ICTs as a tool for development rather than a source of government revenue, the group said.

Some of the key measures backed by national regulatory authorities include technologically neutral licenses (authorizations to provide services that do not distinguish on the basis of technology used, e.g., fixed line or mobile cellular) that enable service providers to use the most cost-effective technology to provide services, and reducing regulatory burdens to lower the costs of providing services.

The regulators agreed that the lessons learned from developing countries’ initial experiences with mobile cellular services should now be applied to a broader range of ICT services to foster universal access.

These lessons include providing services in a competitive framework, using new technologies that offer both innovative services and affordable pricing options (e.g., pay as you go options such as prepaid cards) to a wide range of end users.

Regulators gave the nod to innovative, low-cost technologies that will achieve long-term financial self-sustainability, greater use of public access options that respond to the needs of local users, and the promotion of government measures such as tax incentives, reduced customs tariffs and national manufacturing of ICT equipment. The blueprint identified by regulators would lead to greater competition, more open markets, and spark investment.

The measures also recognize that further steps may be needed to achieve ubiquitous access to ICTs, for example, in rural areas or to users with special needs. Universal service funds are one option that complements regulatory reform when developed as a mechanism within a broader market-oriented approach to achieving universal access.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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