Nº 9 2013 > Forum programme themes
ITU Telecom World 2013
Day 1: 19 November
Forum opening conversation
The information and communication technology sector is undergoing a period of major transition. Even the way we communicate with each other is changing. Messaging and “rich voice” using presence and social media capabilities are increasingly replacing voice calls. Users of data and information are now producers as well as consumers, leading to an explosive demand for bandwidth. New technologies and markets are introducing new players to the industry, challenging traditional business models and regulatory frameworks.
These changes resulting from the shift from a voice-centric to a data-centric era are also bringing opportunities that have the potential to enable social and economic development on an unprecedented scale. Changes in technology promising unlimited and low-cost processing, storage and communication capabilities, together with developments in software-defined networks and data analysis, are transforming the fundamental structure and character of the ICT sector. How can the ICT sector adapt to distribute the benefits of the new digital world on a fair and equitable basis, while ensuring that such important matters as privacy, data protection and cybersecurity are addressed effectively?
Riding the data wave
The plethora of new wireless devices reaching international markets is facilitating innovative business models but straining the ability of fixed and mobile networks to keep pace. Wireless has for some time provided basic connectivity in Asia, but the data storm that has hit European and North American markets will present new challenges to operators because of the shortage of high capacity back haul. “Front-hauling” is one of the techniques that have been promoted as a solution but its use of scarce spectrum presents other difficulties.
Telecommunication companies and over-the-top players
The telecommunication industry is in a quandary over so-called over-the-top (OTT) services, especially for voice and messaging. It now seems inevitable that telephony and short message service (SMS) revenues will decline. Some operators are partnering with the likes of WhatsApp and Facebook to differentiate their offering from the services they generally provide. Others are taking an entirely different path, lobbying regulators to allow them to block or charge fees to their new rivals. A handful still believes GSMA’s Rich Communications Suite (RCS) is a saviour. RCS is said to be changing the way people communicate. It delivers an experience beyond voice and SMS by providing users with instant messaging or chat, live video and file sharing across any device, on any network, with all the enabled contacts in their address book. RCS taps into how consumers are already sharing their daily experiences with each other.
Regional leaders’ round table
At ITU Telecom World in 2012 a group of regional CEOs acknowledged that telecommunication companies were experiencing a time of great change, with increasing costs and falling revenues. The industry must reinvent itself by finding different ways to collect revenues in order to become sustainable in the long run. Different business models are needed to meet the challenges of customer choice brought about by licensed and unlicensed players and the changing world of telecommunication companies and OTT services.
The bottom line is also affected by the way customers communicate with each other and the movement away from voice and data-centric communications to machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and the Internet of Things. This is a time of immense technological change involving mind-blowing challenges for regulation.
Many of these topics were covered during the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT‑12), held in Dubai in December 2012. Some would say that the conference widened the divide between those in favour of an open and free Internet, and those seeking to control it. Perhaps views have changed since then. How does the industry and other main stakeholders now understand the challenges and what are they doing to meet them?
TD-LTE technology and spectrum workshop
The TD-LTE Technology and Spectrum Workshops held in Geneva and Dubai successfully and efficiently promoted the development of time-division long-term evolution (TD-LTE). The third TD-LTE Technology and Spectrum Workshop, jointly hosted by ITU, the Global TD-LTE Initiative (GTI), China Mobile and the Telecommunication Development Industry Alliance (TDIA), is scheduled for 19 November in Bangkok during ITU Telecom World 2013.
This workshop seeks to promote efficient use of spectrum by drawing up a global unified spectrum allocation strategy, and to further accelerate TD-LTE commercial deployment in the world. It is an opportunity for government leaders, regulators, CEOs of operators and chairmen of international associations to share their views on mobile broadband development.
The social and mobile app world: friend or foe?
One of the most vociferous debates in today’s telecommunication industry centres on how operators should deal with OTT players and third-party web companies. From Internet-based alternatives to telephony and texting, such as Skype, Viber or WhatsApp, to the social content economy spurred by companies like Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, carriers feel a threat to some of their traditional revenues. Social media and mobile apps are changing the world. What are the most significant changes that are currently taking place, and what further disruption is on the horizon?
Existing services are delivered via dedicated infrastructure, resulting in the underuse of network resources except during busy hours. Network virtualization promises to end this and significantly reduce operational expenditure. This opens up the possibility of shared network resources, reduced capital investment and reduced operating expenses for network operators. Network operators expect a software purchase business model, while original equipment manufacturers need to protect their interests. For manufacturers, this may mean ceding exclusivity over some network functions, with the possibility that more and more functions will come under the network operator domain. What business models will emerge? How will original equipment manufacturers and network operators coexist in this new environment?
Convergence and regulation
Telecommunications, media and other regulators now inhabit a changing world dominated by end-to-end Internet protocol (IP) devices and networks, a world of OTT operators providing applications where voice is as much an application as a weather outlook, a world where every user is a content generator. Content, whether live or streamed, can be viewed on numerous different smart devices and over multiple delivery technologies. Delivery platforms vary from digital broadcasting and satellite to broadband, IP, and fixed and wireless networks. It is the consumer who largely decides how they access content and applications, but there can be lock-in.
Today applications and services are largely provided by different players from those providing the alternative and competitive local infrastructure. The dominant players are no longer the national incumbent ruled by the national regulator but largely free rein international companies. Many new companies are increasing their value, whereas infrastructure players are struggling to maintain their current worth. There has been a quantum change in the value chain — software and application service providers now dictate to infrastructure players.
Is it time to think radically about the scope of telecommunications and media or broadcasting regulators? Should these bodies be merged? Will such changes assist or hinder the investment and rapid roll-out of new services? Who needs protecting? What is the appropriate level of regulation or can the industry work together to produce guidelines and self-regulate?
The summaries in this section are based on the ITU Telecom World 2013 Forum programme available at http://www.itu.int/online/tlc/WORLD2013/forum/fp?event=wt2013&_sort=D