Although smaller and quieter than in previous years, ITU Telecom World 2009 offered an opportunity for industry and governments from all round the globe to meet, and examine how ICT technologies can play their part in the development of societies and economies
Many said it would be a disaster. They said that without the big European and western manufacturers footing the bill then the event couldn't go ahead. No Nokia, no Ericsson, no Alcatel-Lucent, no show.
Well, despite the fact that at 18,000 visitors the event mustered only quarter of the attendees that came to the 2003 show in Geneva, ITU Telecom World 2009 felt like a success to many that were there as it took on a different tone from past shows. Others, though, found that business was slow and regretted their decision to attend.
The show lost its focus as a glossy showcase for the headline products of all the world's major manufacturers, and instead became a meeting point for those concerned with how best to plot the course of the development of all the world's markets.
So this time, the focus shifted to the southern and emerging markets. And the noise came not from the western manufacturers but from the Chinese vendors, and from Russia and the host of national pavilions that made up most of the show floor. There was also news around legislation and standardization from the ITU itself, to go with the focus on what ICT technologies can bring to the economies of nations across the world.
And there was debate too, whether it was warning from the head of the ITU on the need for vigilance in combating security threats in the IP sphere, or on standardization development, or the latest research on the state and size of the markets.
4.6 Billion Mobile Subscriptions and the broadband divide
The ITU's latest statistics, published in The World in 2009: ICT facts and figures, revealed rapid ICT growth in many world regions in everything from mobile cellular subscriptions to fixed and mobile broadband, and from TV to computer penetration - with mobile technology acting as a key driver.
The data, forecasts and analysis on the global ICT market showed that mobile growth is continuing unabated, with global mobile subscriptions expected to reach 4.6 billion by the end of the year, and mobile broadband subscriptions to top 600 million in 2009, having overtaken fixed broadband subscribers in 2008.
Mobile technologies are making major inroads toward extending ICTs in developing countries, with a number of nations launching and commercially offering IMT2000/3G networks and services. But ITU's statistics also highlight important regional discrepancies, with mobile broadband penetration rates still low in many African countries and other developing nations.
More than a quarter of the world's population is online and using the Internet, as of 2009. Ever-increasing numbers are opting for high-speed Internet access, with fixed broadband subscriber numbers more than tripling from 150 million in 2004 to an estimated 500 million by the end of 2009.
Rapid high-speed Internet growth in the developed world contrasts starkly with the state of play in the developing world. In Africa, for example, there is only one fixed broadband subscriber for every 1,000 inhabitants, compared with Europe where there are some 200 subscribers per 1,000 people. The relative price for ICT services (especially broadband) is highest in Africa, the region with the lowest income levels. The report finds that China has the world's largest fixed broadband market, overtaking its closest rival, the US, at the end of 2008.
ITU estimates show that three quarters of households now own a television set and over a quarter of people globally - some 1.9bn - now have access to a computer at home. This demonstrates the huge market potential in developing countries, where TV penetration is already high, for converged devices, as the mobile, television and Internet worlds collide.
Sami Al Basheer, Director, Telecommunication Development Bureau, said, "We are encouraged to see so much growth, but there is still a large digital divide and an impending broadband divide which needs to be addressed urgently."
New ITU standard opens doors for unified ‘smart home' network
The G.hn standard for wired home networking gained international approval at Telecom World, as the ITU approved a standard that it said will usher in a new era in ‘smart home' networking systems and applications.
Called ‘G.hn', the standard is intended to help service providers deploy new offerings, including High Definition TV (HDTV) and digital Internet Protocol TV (IPTV), more cost effectively. It will also provide a basis for consumer electronics manufacturers to network all types of home entertainment, home automation and home security products, and simplify consumers' purchasing and installation processes. Experts predict that the first chipsets employing G.hn will be available in early 2010.
G.hn-compliant devices will be capable of handling high-bandwidth rich multimedia content at speeds of up to 1 Gbit/s over household wiring options, including coaxial cable and standard phone and power lines. It will deliver many times the throughput of existing wireless and wired technologies.
Approval of the new standard will allow manufacturers of networked home devices to move forward with their R&D programmes and bring products to market more rapidly and with more confidence.
"G.hn is a technology that gives new use to the cabling most people already have in their homes. The remarkable array of applications that it will enable includes energy efficient smart appliances, home automation and telemedicine devices," said Malcolm Johnson, Director of ITU's Telecommunication Standardisation Bureau.
The physical layer and architecture portion of the standard were approved by ITU-T Study Group 15 on October 9. The data link layer of the new standard is expected to garner final approval at the group's next meeting in May 2010.
The Home Grid Forum, a group set up to promote G.hn, is developing a certification programme together with the Broadband Forum that will aid semiconductor and systems manufacturers in building and bringing standards-compliant products to market, with products that fully conform to the G.hn standard bearing the HomeGrid-certified logo.
Also agreed at the recent ITU-T Study Group 15 meeting was a new standard that focuses on coexistence between G.hn-based products and those using other technologies. Known as G.9972, the standard describes the process by which G.hn devices will work with power line devices that use technologies such as IEEE P1901. In addition, experts say that they will develop extensions to G.hn to support SmartGrid applications.
Shake up the standardization landscape
Nineteen CTOs from some of the world's key ICT players called upon ITU to provide a lead in an overhaul of the global ICT standardization landscape.
The CTOs agreed on a set of recommendations and actions that will better address the evolving needs of a fast-moving industry; facilitate the launch of new products, services and applications; promote cost-effective solutions; combat climate change; and address the needs of developing countries regarding greater inclusion in standards development.
Participants reaffirmed the increasing importance of standards in the rapidly changing information society. Standards are the ‘universal language' that drives competitiveness by helping organizations optimize their efficiency, effectiveness, responsiveness and innovation, the CTOs agreed.
Malcolm Johnson, Director, Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, ITU, said, "There are many examples of successful standards collaboration, a fragile economic environment and an ICT ecosystem characterized by convergence makes it all the more important to streamline and clarify the standardization landscape. We have agreed on a number of concrete actions that will help us move towards this goal and strengthen understanding of standards' critical role in combating climate change, while better reflecting the needs of developing countries."
The standardization landscape has become complicated and fragmented, with hundreds of different industry forums and consortia. CTOs agreed that it has become increasingly tough to prioritise standardisation resources, and called on ITU - as the preeminent global standards body - to lead a review to clarify the standardization scenario.
ITU will host a web portal providing information on the interrelationship of standards and standards bodies, which would facilitate the work of industry and standards makers while promoting cooperation and collaboration and avoiding duplication.
War in cyberspace?
The next world war could take place in cyberspace, Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the ITU warned during the conference.
"The next world war could happen in cyberspace and that would be a catastrophe. We have to make sure that all countries understand that in that war, there is no such thing as a superpower," Hamadoun Toure said. "The best way to win a war is to avoid it in the first place," he added. "Loss of vital networks would quickly cripple any nation, and none is immune to cyberattack," said Toure.
Toure said that cyberattacks and crimes have also increased, referring to such attacks as the use of "phishing" tools to get hold of passwords to commit fraud, or attempts by hackers to bring down secure networks. Individual countries have started to respond by bolstering their defences.
US Secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced that she has received the green light to hire up to 1,000 cybersecurity experts to ramp up the United States' defenses against cyber threats.
South Korea has also announced plans to train 3,000 "cyber sheriffs" by next year to protect businesses after a spate of attacks on state and private websites.
Warning of the magnitude of cybercrimes and attacks, Carlos Solari, Alcatel-Lucent's vice-president on central quality, security and reliability, told an ITU forum that breaches in e-commerce are now already running to "hundreds of billions."
One high profile victim in recent years was Estonia, which suffered high profile cyber attacks on government websites and leading businesses in 2007. Estonian Minister for Economic Affairs and Communications Juhan Parts said in Geneva that "adequate international cooperation" was essential. "If something happens on cyberspace it's a border crossing issue. We have to have horizontal cooperation globally," he added.
To meet this goal, 37 ITU member countries have joined forces in the International Multilateral Partnership against Cyber Threats (IMPACT), set up this year to "proactively track and defend against cyberthreats." Another 15 nations are holding advanced discussions, according to the ITU.
Experts say that a major problem is that the current software and web infrastructure has the same weaknesses as those produced two decades ago.
"The real problem is that we're putting on the market software that is as vulnerable as it was 20 years ago," said Cristine Hoepers, general manager at Brazilian National Computer Emergency Response Team.