ITU Deputy Secretary-General Malcolm Johnson sat down for an interview at the ITU Telecom World event last week in Durban, South Africa to discuss digital development and his vision for “a digital future where nobody is left behind.”
Mr. Johnson outlined how ITU is working to connect the unconnected and what critical steps are needed to ensure new technologies benefit developing nations.
“My vision is a digital future where nobody is left behind and opportunities have no boundaries.”- Malcolm Johnson, Deputy Secretary-General, ITU
“Technology is moving at ever accelerating pace. I believe ITU has to ensure that these major technological advances like [Internet of Things], 5G, artificial intelligence, Big Data, cloud [computing] don’t widen the gap between the developed and the developing countries, but close the gap,” says Johnson.
As he explained, the core function of ITU is to harmonize the radio-frequency spectrum, coordinate satellite orbits, and develop common standards for the interoperability of new technologies.
And as these new technologies advance, “we need to involve people from developing countries in [the technical] work so that their own specific requirements are included in our standards and that they have a better understanding of these very complex standards and know which ones suit them best and how to implement them,” says Johnson.
“As we know, almost half of the world’s population is still offline and most of those are living in rural remote isolated communities where connectivity is difficult. Difficult often because of the terrain… but also because the return on investment in those areas is much poorer of course than the urban areas,” explains Johnson.
The divide between rural and urban is “something I’m particularly passionate about, having been born and brought up in a in a little village in the middle of Wales, so I can very much relate to that,” said Johnson. “It’s not just a question of connectivity, because statistics show that 80 per cent of the Wales population is covered by at least 3G services. So it’s clearly other reasons why people are not connecting.”
There are many factors that prevent people from coming online, he said.
“One of the main things is affordability. These services and the equipment have to be affordable. But also the content has to be relevant to people in order for them to invest in the service or buy the equipment,” — Malcolm Johnson.
“Content has got to be relevant to the locality. It’s got to be in the local language,” he said. “People have to have the digital literacy skills to take advantage of it and also, of course, people need to be able to trust the technology. So ITU is doing a lot, of course, to address these challenges.”
“We need to see into the future and a lot of the future is coming out of start-ups. So, we need them to participate in the work of ITU,” said Johnson.
As part of ITU Telecom World 2018, a dedicated SME Programme offered support for high-growth SMEs ready to scale up.
This year, over 125 SME exhibitors from 19 countries were present in the exhibition space, and 65 SMEs were shortlisted for the prestigious ITU Telecom World Awards 2018 in 5 different categories.