Nº 3 2014 > Interviews and viewpoints
Chairman of WTDC‑14 offers his views
Interview with Mohamed Nasser Al‑Ghanim
Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of the United Arab Emirates and Chairman of WTDC‑14
ITU News catches up with Mohamed Nasser Al‑Ghanim, Chairman of the sixth ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC‑14), which was held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates from 30 March to 10 April 2014. Mr Al‑Ghanim is Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of the United Arab Emirates, a country that successfully hosted three major ITU events in 2012 — ITU Telecom World, the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly and the World Conference on International Telecommunications.
Why has Dubai become such a popular venue for ITU global events?
Mohamed Nasser Al‑Ghanim: As you know, the United Arab Emirates is centrally located and is becoming a hub where countries from the east and west, north and south, can come to exchange ideas and do business. At the same time, telecommunications have been advancing very fast in the United Arab Emirates, and we are now one of the world leaders in telecommunications infrastructure, services and even regulations. And of course it is a huge advantage for all visitors that the United Arab Emirates is a safe country, with airlines that connect it to countries all over the world. The United Arab Emirates is also one of the most attractive tourist destinations.
Back in 2006 our aim was to start attracting ITU events by hosting ITU Telecom World. Although we competed to host that prestigious event, we were unsuccessful in 2006 and again in 2009. But we kept on trying, and at last we were successful in 2012. Because the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) and the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) were to take place at around the same time as ITU Telecom World, we decided that we should offer to host those events as well, and make the United Arab Emirates a hub for ITU events in 2012. We had the support of the Board of Directors of our Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, who had the foresight to envisage a future partnership with ITU.
What do you see as the most significant achievements of WTDC‑14?
Mohamed Nasser Al‑Ghanim: Everybody came together in a spirit of agreement to move forward on the agenda that was established for the conference. We approved over 60 revised and new resolutions, five recommendations and several study topics. There was a huge difference between the spirit of participants at WCIT, which I also chaired, and WTDC‑14.
The resolutions touch on so many fronts. One, for example, deals with information and communication technologies (ICT) and climate change. A second looks into cybersecurity and combating spam. Another resolution deals with people with disabilities, and so on and so forth. So WTDC‑14 took many important decisions and approved important resolutions that will guide the future work of the Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) and the next study period in the ITU Development Sector (ITU–D).
What were the greatest challenges you faced in conducting this conference?
Mohamed Nasser Al‑Ghanim: My greatest challenge was ensuring the cooperation of the administrations involved in any decision. The role of the chairman of a conference is to facilitate dialogue between different parties. When you are chairing a small meeting, you generally have to deal with just two or three people who have different opinions, coming from different backgrounds with different positions. When you chair a world conference, you are faced with a large number of participants — taking WTDC‑14 for the sake of an example, nearly 140 administrations. So you really need to bring them all around the table. You need to give them the chance to be heard, and allow them to give their opinion, and you need to make them listen to the opinions of others. You have to be very balanced in your approach in order to make things happen. And you need to be very positive.
Sometimes the chairman has to come up with a solution and recommendations to the meeting in order to bridge differences. Respect for the chairman is so important in this regard. If the meeting respects the chairman’s opinion, this can help in moving forward. I was lucky to have chaired WCIT, which was a very difficult conference — possibly the most difficult conference ITU has ever held — yet we came up with a treaty that was signed by 89 countries. In my opinion WCIT was a big success because, although it raised such difficult questions, it achieved a positive outcome.
For me, chairing WTDC‑14 was a very good experience. At WTDC‑14, there was much less stress on me to do things, compared with my role at WCIT. The chairmen and the vice-chairmen of the committees did a great job at this conference. In general, the debates moved along very smoothly. There were only one or two resolutions that I had to get seriously involved in, where I had to sit with different administrations and try to resolve things.
The first was the Palestine resolution, which was negotiated between the Arab countries and the United States. They sat around the table in good faith and they negotiated the resolution — and we concluded it very quickly, and the matter was closed. That result is great and positive.
The second was the cybersecurity resolution, which took a very long time to resolve. People stayed in the meeting rooms until the early hours of the morning. This matter also came to a successful conclusion. Some of the difficulties popped up again in the plenary meeting but were resolved very quickly, and the text was approved.
There were a lot of contentious opinions about these two resolutions, but the good thing is that all the administrations involved were positive and they reached agreement on the texts in a timely manner.
ITU held regional preparatory meetings in the six regions of its Development Sector — Africa, the Americas, the Arab States, Asia-Pacific, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and Europe — where many topics were discussed. Did the interplay between these regions help to achieve the progress that we saw at WTDC‑14?
Mohamed Nasser Al‑Ghanim: Yes of course. Instead of negotiating with more than 190 countries at a world conference, you negotiate with regional groups. In each region, the countries get together and agree on their common position. They then go to the other regions and try to negotiate. Opinions become consolidated, with two or three regions taking one position, and maybe three regions taking another position. We then come to the conference, where we all have to reach agreement with each other. On the agenda of any conference there will be common agreement on a lot of items, and there will be some issues on which there is no agreement among the regional groups. So, in the end, the conference will decide.
Without the regional groups, any conference would be very tough for a chairman. Regional group meetings make it easier for conferences to conduct their business because administrations come along at least with an agreement among themselves at a regional level, before they present their views to the other regions. At conferences, we normally see regional coordination meetings between different groups. We have seen it at WTDCs and at world radiocommunication conferences, and even at WCIT and WTSA. The regional groups meet to resolve their differences, reducing the amount of work for the conference as a whole.
There is one thing I want to add — ITU itself plays an essential role. In particular, the Directors of the Bureaux work with the regional groups prior to conferences. So, for example, the Director of BDT, Brahima Sanou, played a massive role in WTDC‑14 in bridging a lot of the differences between regional groups. Mr Sanou did a fantastic job, resolving many issues himself, trying to coordinate the regional groups and helping to bridge any gaps.
How do you see the future of the partnership between Dubai and ITU?
Mohamed Nasser Al‑Ghanim: WTDC‑14 is our fourth event in a row with ITU, following ITU Telecom World, WTSA and WCIT in 2012, and both parties — the United Arab Emirates and ITU — recognize that we have a very successful partnership. These major conferences concluded very successfully. Previously, by the way, we hosted the Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR) in 2007.
Although I would not want to try to predict the future, I think that the United Arab Emirates will continue to work closely with ITU. We are putting forward our candidature for the Council. We cooperate with the ITU management team during Council meetings, as well as in the study groups, and so on and so forth. We have representatives in Geneva who work full time with ITU. We have supported the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General and the Directors of the Bureaux over the past eight years. The Plenipotentiary Conference, to be held in Busan, Republic of Korea, in October-November this year, will elect (or re-elect in some cases) an ITU management team for the next four years. Of course we will need to sit with the new team and discuss the future of our partnership with ITU. We hope to continue working with ITU on topics of importance, and to host further meetings in the United Arab Emirates, whether major conferences like WTDC‑14 or study group meetings (which we have also hosted previously).
The overarching theme of WTDC‑14 was “Broadband for sustainable development”. In Dubai, and in the United Arab Emirates in general, a lot of effort has gone into broadband. Could you tell us about your country’s experience with broadband?
Mohamed Nasser Al‑Ghanim: Broadband is one of our success stories. More than 85 per cent of households have fibre connectivity. We have an average speed today which is in excess of 4 megabits per second, and we expect to double it soon. Speeds exceeding 100 megabits per second — and even 300 megabits per second — are now being deployed for individuals. We have one of the most widely deployed 4G networks globally, with more than 90 per cent population coverage (and 100 per cent 3G coverage). We will soon be going beyond 4G. The theme for our national policy is “broadband”, and we have a high penetration rate both for mobile and for triple play (voice, data and television on one platform).
The Government of the United Arab Emirates understands the importance of broadband and has decided to adopt this technology in its day-to-day business. The Prime Minister has declared that all government services will migrate to become smart government services available on smart phones. This is a huge step forward in transforming government services — even their look and feel — into something very innovative. We have issued guidelines for launching smart services, and we already have plans for 110 apps for government institutions, including a specialized app that is available on iPhone and Android smartphone platforms. The Prime Minister has also declared that Dubai is going to be a smart city very soon. Over the next 12 months we will see a lot of advances in the United Arab Emirates.
What is your message to ITU top management?
Mohamed Nasser Al‑Ghanim: I would like to thank ITU for entrusting the United Arab Emirates with the responsibility of hosting WTDC‑14 in Dubai. The Secretary-General, the Deputy Secretary-General and the Directors of the Bureaux did a fantastic job. This is the last term of office for Dr Hamadoun I. Touré as Secretary-General of ITU. What he has done with the management team over the past eight years is a story to tell. He has given a good example of how a team can work together as one.