Nº 8 2012 > ITU Telecom World Timeline — 1971-–2011

TELECOM 99 - INTERACTIVE 99
The Internet goes mobile

The 8th World Telecommunication Exhibition and Forum took place in Geneva from 10 to 17 October 1999, and attracted more than 175 000 participants and over 1100 exhibitors.

TELECOM 99 - INTERACTIVE 99  The Internet goes mobileTELECOM 99 - INTERACTIVE 99  The Internet goes mobileTELECOM 99 - INTERACTIVE 99  The Internet goes mobileKofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United NationsRuth Dreifuss, President of the Swiss ConfederationYoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General of ITU Martine Brunschwig-Graf, President of the State Council of the Republic and Canton of GenevaKurt Hellström, President of EricssonTELECOM 99 - INTERACTIVE 99  The Internet goes mobileBill Gates, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MicrosoftTELECOM 99 - INTERACTIVE 99  The Internet goes mobileTelecom 99 + Interactive 99 in photosTelecom 99 + Interactive 99 in photosTelecom 99 + Interactive 99 in photosTelecom 99 + Interactive 99 in photosTelecom 99 + Interactive 99 in photosTelecom 99 + Interactive 99 in photosTelecom 99 + Interactive 99 in photos
Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations
Ruth Dreifuss, President of the Swiss Confederation
Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General of ITU
Martine Brunschwig-Graf, President of the State Council of the Republic and Canton of Geneva
Kurt Hellström, President of Ericsson
Bill Gates, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Microsoft
Telecom 99 + Interactive 99 in photos
Telecom 99 + Interactive 99 in photos
Telecom 99 + Interactive 99 in photos
Telecom 99 + Interactive 99 in photos
Telecom 99 + Interactive 99 in photos
Telecom 99 + Interactive 99 in photos
Telecom 99 + Interactive 99 in photos

Dubbed TELECOM 99 + INTERACTIVE 99, the event marked one of the most important trends in the development of information and communication technologies (ICT) — the convergence of the Internet with mobile phone and wireless technology. This convergence would have a huge impact on daily life.

A number of themes dominated the event. On the one hand was the promise of a better-connected world in the new millennium. On the other were the shadows of an information gap threatening that promise. Much of the focus was on wireless technology and the Internet. In particular, wireless access to the Internet was at the heart of business strategies of most telecommunication and information technology companies.

Keynote speakers such as Bill Gates, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Microsoft, and Kurt Hellström, President of Ericsson, predicted the future — which has now become a reality.

“[In the future] people will not have to think about moving their information around,” said Mr Gates. “Any files or favourites or messages that they are interested in should just immediately show up wherever they are, whether it is the television that will be connected to the Internet, their mobile phone, their computer in their car, or their PC in all its various forms. In order to make this happen, we are completely dependent on forming strong partnerships with telecommunication companies.”

At TELECOM 99 + INTERACTIVE 99, Mr Gates unveiled a prototype Microsoft smartphone based on Windows CE, with Outlook and an Internet browser built in. “We have made a bet that these things will really explode,” he said. “We have taken our software R&D budget and really aimed at these integration scenarios, integrating television, mobile phone and PC, and letting people get information in a way that they do not even have to think about where it is located.”

In 1995 there had been 18 million digital cellular subscribers worldwide. Just four years later, by the time of TELECOM 99 + INTERACTIVE 99, there were more than 300 million digital cellular subscribers around the world.

“Affordable solutions that let you communicate, no matter where you are or what time it is — and without the restraints of physical connections — are increasingly available around the world,” said Kurt Hellström, President of Ericsson.

At the time of TELECOM 99 + INTERACTIVE 99, Ericsson was a world leader in the wireless application protocol or WAP. Strongly in evidence in exhibits at TELECOM 99 + INTERACTIVE 99 were WAP-enabled terminals. There was also a focus on Internet security, and broadband capacity and applications.

The first step towards mobile Internet: WAP

Ericsson, as the founder of the wireless application protocol (WAP), launched the world’s first commercial WAP terminal in June 1999. WAP was the first step towards mobile Internet and third-generation (3G) mobile technologies that led to the creation of a whole new set of services that we now take for granted, such as mobile banking, shopping, ticketing and entertainment.

A first, vital step in the migration to 3G for global system for mobile communications (GSM) and time division multiple access (TDMA) operators was the launch of general packet radio services (GPRS), which introduced packet data transmission to the network. A packet-switching core network gave users the feeling of being “always online, always connected”.

WAP applications that Ericsson believed would take off are indeed now commonplace including e-mail, voice messaging, electronic commerce, banking services, city guides, ticketing, and restaurant reservations.

ITU’s IMT-2000 global standard for 3G opened the way to innovative services and applications, anytime and anywhere, with seamless global roaming. Many stands at TELECOM 99 + INTERACTIVE 99 showcased IMT-2000 prototypes, in particular videophones.

By 1999, visitors to TELECOM 99 + INTERACTIVE 99 were already able to experience wireless 3G applications such as video conferencing, browsing the Internet and booking theatre tickets as well as listening to and downloading music from the web — all while being fully mobile.

TELECOM 99 + INTERACTIVE 99 also differed from its predecessors in being fully online. Information on the event was available to all participants via more than 300 TELECOM information kiosks, which logged more than a million hits during the first five days of the event. The TELECOM part of ITU’s website registered more than 10 million hits during the first two weeks of October — and much of the press coverage achieved for the event came from users of the web rather than journalists at the show. 

Keynote speakers warn  of dangers of technology 

The event attracted leaders at the highest level, from government ministers to the CEOs of the front-ranked market players, along with the most respected industry analysts and commentators. The opening ceremony, which was sponsored by Ericsson, included keynote addresses from Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations; Ruth Dreifuss, President of the Swiss Confederation; Martine Brunschwig-Graf, President of the State Council of the Republic and Canton of Geneva; and Kurt Hellström, President of Ericsson.

Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General of ITU at the time of TELECOM 99 + INTERACTIVE 99, said in his opening remarks that the TELECOM event being inaugurated by ITU was “a demonstration, at a global level, of the new technologies available today and tomorrow. Let us be inspired towards their further development. Let us share new wisdom in an effort to meet the goal we set 15 years ago, of bringing everyone within walking distance of a telephone. Let us commit ourselves, here at Telecom 99 + Interactive 99, to making it happen.”

In his opening address, Kurt Hellström, President of Ericsson, warned that new technology can put tremendous power into the hands of governments and corporations but it must not be abused. “Unwarranted restrictions must be eliminated,” said Mr Hellström. “Everyone must have access to the information that is now so readily available.”

Other keynote speakers agreed that the diffusion of technology and the right to communication were vital to the development needs of the world as a whole.

“Apart from achieving technical improvements, therefore, the work done in the next few years must solve various problems so that the benefits derived from the immense progress made are more evenly distributed, among all social classes and among all countries,” said Ruth Dreifuss, President of the Swiss Confederation. “Let us make sure that the slogans do not lie, so that global communication has no boundaries and is a reality for all continents.”

Martine Brunschwig Graf, President of the State Council of the Republic and Canton of Geneva, agreed: “In terms of the relevant skills and know-how, the world must not be divided between haves and have-nots.”

Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General, took up this theme eloquently as the highest representative of the United Nations family. For Mr Annan, access was crucial. “The capacity to receive, download and share information through electronic networks, the freedom to communicate freely across national boundaries — these must become realities for all people,” he said. The UN Secretary-General reminded delegates that a quarter of all countries had not yet achieved even a basic level of access to telecommunications — a teledensity of 1, or 1 telephone for every 100 people. Half the world’s people had never even made or received a telephone call. “My fear is that we are adding a new divide to the already well-entrenched one between rich and poor: a digital divide between the information-rich and the information-poor,” said Mr Annan. “Five out of six billion live in developing countries. For many of them, the great scientific and technical achievements of our era might as well be taking place on another planet.” That was not to disparage the value and benefits of the new technology if delivered globally.

“With their power to create new opportunities, telecommunications could be a tremendous force for integrating people and nations into the global economy — the only real hope we have of overcoming poverty,” said Mr Annan. 

The Forum 

This view was shared by many of the 4000 people who took part in the Forum programme, which encompassed a total of five summits and several combined sessions, which opened with keynotes from Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General of ITU, John Roth, President and CEO of Nortel Networks and Erkki Liikanen, the European Commissioner for Information Technology.

The Connected Society Roundtable was chaired by Musalia Mudavadi, Minister for Information, Transport and Communications, Kenya, with keynotes being given by Lou Gerstner, Chairman of the Board and CEO of IBM and Jichuan Wu, the Minister for Information, Transport and Communications, China.

The Development Symposium brought 150 engineers and human resource specialists from 79 of the world’s lowest income countries to Geneva on fellowships, in order to concentrate on issues of immediate importance to their specific countries, to participate in the Forum, and visit the Exhibition. The Development Symposium opening was chaired by Chen Chimutengwende, Minister of Information, Posts and Telecommunications of Zimbabwe, with keynotes from Yoshio Utsumi; Hamadoun I. Touré, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau; Tony Reis, CEO of Swisscom; and John Chambers, President and CEO of Cisco Systems.

The Policy and Regulatory Summit Opening was chaired by Jean-Michel Hubert, President of the French regulatory agency, ART, with opening remarks from Roberto Blois, Deputy Secretary-General of ITU, and keynotes from Michael Armstrong, Chairman and CEO of AT&T; Serge Tchuruk, Chairman of Alcatel; and Jens Arnbak, Chairman of the Commission of the Netherlands’ regulator, the Independent Post and Telecommunication Authority.

The Infrastructure Summit Opening was chaired by Jozef Cornu, the President and CEO of Alcatel, with keynotes from Carly Fiorina, President and CEO of Hewlett Packard, Tadashi Nishimoto, the President of KDD; and Werner Schmücking, a member of the board of Siemens.

Bill Gates, Seiko Noda, a Member of Japan’s House of Representatives, and Larry Ellison, Chairman and CEO of Oracle delivered the keynotes at the Interactive Services and Applications Summit. 

Humanitarian issues 

ITU made sure that humanitarian issues were not forgotten. In a session on telecommunications for humanitarian assistance, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Sadako Ogata, called on the telecommunication industry to support the Tampere Convention on the Provision of Telecommunication Resources for Disaster Mitigation and Relief Operations.

Ms Ogata stressed the need for partnerships. “UNHCR is prepared to enter into standby arrangements with telecommunication companies that could be activated in case of large emergencies, and through which resources can be made available.” She added that specialized staff should be deployed to provide support in refugee operations. 

World TELECOM  Internet Days 

The event closed with a weekend dedicated to the Internet — the World TELECOM Internet Days. These two days were open to the general public and put a spotlight on the enormous importance of the Internet in the world. They featured debates, demonstrations and a chance for people to see the shape of the future.

Keynote speaker at these sessions, Vinton Cerf, Senior Vice-President, Internet Architecture and Technology at MCI WorldCom, who helped create the Internet back in 1969, stressed that the world should not underestimate the real scope of governance, which includes taxation, consumer protection, content control and intellectual property rights. “There are a thousand paths into the future, but which one we take is no more predictable than the discovery of the transistor in 1947, or the integrated circuit in 1958,” said Mr Cerf. 

Palexpo expands to  accommodate  TELECOM 99 +  INTERACTIVE 99 

TELECOM 99 + INTERACTIVE 99 was the biggest telecommunication event ever organized by ITU, quadrupling the number of exhibitors compared to the two previous shows in 1991 and 1995.

Allocating space for the 8th World TELECOM Exhibition in 1999 was not easy, given that so many companies had made it clear, as early as 1995 that they wanted to show the world their accomplishments and their novelties on the eve of the new millennium. Telecom received too many requests for too little space. In 1998, however, with the help of the Swiss authorities, it was able to develop a project to use a whole new area in the gardens in front of the Palexpo Exhibition and Convention Centre.

The project, with its covered walkways, became an integral part of Palexpo for TELECOM 99 + INTERACTIVE 99. Consisting of a press centre, four press conference rooms, a television studio, a restaurant and an exhibition hall, all air conditioned and fully equipped in terms of network connectivity, it provided all the amenities exhibitors and visitors to this global event had come to expect. For the Exhibition, the project meant adding an extra 2500 m2 of space, and by the end of 1998 it was clear that in total the Exhibition would cover 100 400 m² of net floor space, including additional storeys on multilevel stands.

“Sometimes, watching the news on television — or indeed coping with it in my work as Secretary-General — it seems as if the future will be nothing but conflict, hunger, pollution and despair,” commented Mr Annan. “But when I see what your industry has put on display here in Geneva, I see a quite different and much more encouraging picture. I look forward to exploring with you how we can unite these two visions — that is, how we can use the great promise of one to avoid the nightmare of the other.”