Vodafone and ITU establish new working group to close digital divide

Vodafone and the ITU have launched a major new initiative to address the global digital divide. The program aims to give an additional 3.4 billion worldwide the ability to access and use the internet through a smartphone by 2030, Vodafone announced.

The new working group, co-chaired by Vodafone Group CEO Nick Read and ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, will identify policy, commercial and circular economy actions to increase smartphone access. Launch partners for the initiative include the GSMA, Vodacom Group, Safaricom, Smart Africa, the government of Ghana, the World Wide Web Foundation, and the Alliance for Affordable Internet.

In a statement announcing the initiative, Vodafone cited GSMA Connected Society research showing 82 per cent of the citizens of low- and middle-income countries are now covered by 4G mobile networks, but many lack a capable device.

Nick Read, CEO of Vodafone Group, said: “Vodafone is honored to be part of this monumental global initiative with the UN, to improve the lives of billions of people through smartphone access. As our societies become more digital, everyone should have the ability to find jobs, be able to get public services, financial services and critical information that are increasingly only available through the internet. This is such a complex challenge that no network operator, device manufacturer, financial services provider or national government can solve on their own – but working together we can break through the barriers.”

Houlin Zhao, Secretary General of the ITU, said: “Achieving the Broadband Commission Global Targets requires a multi-stakeholder approach. I am pleased to co-chair this newly established Working Group, which will also help address the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that we put smart devices in the hands of those who are left behind.”

Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, Ghana’s Minister for Communications and Digitalization, stated 45 per cent of people in West Africa are covered by mobile broadband networks but do not use the internet.

Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, officer-in-charge of the office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology, explained the Vodafone and ITU working group will play a key role in helping the body achieve its goal of universal connectivity by 2030 by helping ensure the global shift to digital technology “is beneficial and makes our societies more equal and not less.”

The Broadband Commission Working Group will produce a report and set of recommendations including:

  • original analysis and data on the smartphone access gap;

  • quantification of the social and economic impact of providing everyone with smartphone access by 2030, including assessment of moving users from 2G feature phones to 4G smartphones; and

  • analysis of initiatives or pilots designed to increase smartphone access. Vodafone Group has committed to launch two pilot projects on device affordability as part of this process.

“This partnership is key to expand access to the internet,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau. “I am confident that the outcome report will provide guidance to all our stakeholders as we prepare for the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference in 2022 to build a world where no one is left off-line.”

To coincide with the creation of this new ITU working group, Vodafone, Safaricom and Vodacom have published the second Africa.Connected report in accelerating 4G roll-out in sub-Saharan Africa. The report, prepared by consultancy Caribou Digital, outlines four key steps to boosting digital access across African. This includes making 4G devices more accessible; investing in the demand for 4G services; providing targeted financing for underserved demographics; and re-farming 2G spectrum to enable more people to use 4G services.







ITU Global Resiliency Platform to keep information networks ‘safer, stronger’ throughout COVID-19 pandemic

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) on Monday launched the Global Network Resiliency Platform, to collect and share information on managing telecom networks around the world during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The UN agency said the platform is designed to help policymakers, regulators and industry stakeholders share best practices on ensuring networks remain fully functional in order to support health workers and other key sectors during the crisis.
“The new platform will assist governments and the private sector in ensuring that networks are kept resilient and telecommunication services are available to all”, said ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao.
Aerial photo of ITU HQ taken via drone

ITU Tweet March 23, 2020: 

Global Network Resiliency Platform to help countries + industry cope with the increasing stress put on global networks during the #COVID19 crisis itu.int/en/mediacentre#REG4COVID


Telecommunication networks have never before been as vital to “our health and safety, and to keep our economy and society working” as they are during the current crisis, where millions are being encouraged to stay put at home, the ITU chief maintained.

He has asked instructed his team to “leverage without any delay” the new platform in aid of existing networks “to help countries and industry cope with the increasing stress being put on global networks”.

“At stake is our ability, as one human family, to give health workers everywhere, the tools they need to carry out their duties, to allow all those that can to work from home, to trade online, to ensure that hundreds of millions of children and young people keep up with their studies, and to keep in touch with loved ones, wherever they are”, he detailed.

The Global Network Resiliency Platform will also share best practices and initiatives that have been put in place during the COVID-19 crisis to ensure that telecommunication services are available to the maximum extent possible.

The portal will collect relevant information and expertise on actions that telecommunication policymakers and others in the regulatory community can use to ensure that their networks serve their country’s needs.

“This new ITU platform will provide countries struggling to find appropriate solutions to ensure their networks’ resiliency with relevant and trustworthy information and expertise on how to cope with the stresses faced by their infrastructure”, assured the agency chief.

“And because time is of the essence, it will give those countries that still have time to prepare an opportunity to learn from what is being done elsewhere – from emergency spectrum reassignments to guidelines for consumers on responsible use.”

Serving initially as an informative tool, the portal will soon be expanded to provide an interactive and engaging platform for continuous sharing throughout the pandemic and beyond.

“The crisis we are in today calls for solidarity”, he spelled out. “In these uncertain times, we should not forget all those around the world who still lack access to the Internet”.

ITU has long promoted universal, reliable and affordable connectivity, and will continue to push on all these fronts and advocate until everyone is connected.

“I call on all ITU members, from the public and private sector alike, to come together to build the best platform we can so that information and communication technology can help defeat COVID-19 and make us safer, stronger and more connected,” concluded the ITU Secretary-General.


Coronavirus Portal Updates:

Readers can find information and guidance on the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) from the UN, World Health Organization and UN agencies here.




ITU Telecom World 2019: 5G dominates debate at ITU-T organized CTO meeting in Budapest, Hungary


Since 2016, ITU-T has organized meetings of high-level, private sector executives to discuss the standardization landscape, identifying and coordinating standards priorities and ways to best meet the needs of the private sector.  This year’s meeting was in conjunction with ITU Telecom World 2019.

Among the key conclusions of the 2019 Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) meeting, held earlier this week in Budapest, Hungary:

  • Industry collaboration will be key to security in the 5G era.
  • The sharing of network infrastructure could help operators to deliver new services faster, at lower cost.
  • 5G continues to highlight the necessity of investment in all-fiber networks (for backhaul, metro and core networks).
  • Machine Learning is certain to form part of our 5G future.

CTOs highlighted that standardization and open-source projects both stand to benefit from close interaction.

They also suggested that a ‘5G observatory’ to share lessons learnt from 5G testbeds and early commercial deployments could assist developing countries in gaining greater clarity around the business opportunities presented by 5G.

With a view to discussing industry needs and associated standardization priorities, the meeting brought together representatives of companies including China Mobile, du, Ericsson, Fujitsu, Futurewei Technologies, Global Voice Group, Huawei, Juniper Networks, Nokia, NTT, Orange, Rohde & Schwarz, Symantec, Telkom Indonesia, TELUS, Tunisie Télécom, UNITEL and Verizon.

The meeting issued a communiqué summarizing trends in information and communication technology (ICT) of growing relevance to ITU standardization.

< Download the CTO meeting communique >

5G era security:

5G security will demand significant industry collaboration and well-coordinated contributions from a wide range of standards bodies. In this author’s opinion, that is not happening at all!   CTOs considered the ‘Ottawa Accord’, a set of security priorities developed in June 2019 by network operators, standards bodies and industry associations.

The CTO meeting endorsed the findings of the Ottawa Accord in relation to three security priorities:

  • Global threat exchange: Common understanding of security threats and common terminology to enable the sharing of threat intelligence.
  • Best practices for operational security: Best practices for 5G security and widespread commitment to infrastructure protection.
  • Security Incentives: Measurement schemes based on agreed metrics could bring attention to prevailing levels of security and create incentives for investment in security.

CTOs also considered that a holistic approach to 5G era security could receive valuable support from a global centre for the development of security solutions and their testing and assurance. Such a ‘living lab’ open to multiple interested parties, said CTOs, could bring cohesion to 5G security efforts as well as reduce the costs of testing security solutions.

Network infrastructure sharing:

Infrastructure sharing can assist network operators in reducing time-to-market for new solutions and in gaining cost efficiencies. CTOs illustrated potential scenarios for the sharing of infrastructure such as core networks, central offices, backhaul infrastructure, and towers and radio access networks.

CTOs considered an example of ‘Multi-Core Operator Networks’, networks said to be capable of reducing an operator’s infrastructure investments by as much as 50 per cent and also enable improvements in network performance.

IEEE Techblog recently reported on 5G network sharing in China.  We expect more of this in the near future.

Business rationale for 5G deployment:

5G will support enhanced mobile broadband, massive-scale Internet of Things, and ultra-reliable and low latency communications for applications such as Virtual Reality and automated driving. It presents a key opportunity for network operators to serve consumers as well as other industry sectors.

But 5G deployment calls for considerable investment, leading CTOs to highlight that network operators – particularly in developing countries – may benefit from greater clarity around the business opportunities presented by 5G.

CTOs thus suggested that ITU consider the establishment of ‘5G observatory’ to share lessons learnt from 5G testbeds and early commercial deployments.

Fiber future:

CTOs with experience in the early commercial deployment of 5G reiterated the importance of investment in fiber optic networks, which form the ‘backbone’ of the Information Society. Investment in fiber continues to rise, with fiber recognized as the key infrastructure underlying today’s ultra-broadband Gigabit era.

Recognizing ITU’s leadership in the standardization of fiber-optic networks, technologies and infrastructures, CTOs encouraged ITU to support industry in taking full advantage of ITU-standardized Fiber to the Home (FTTH) technologies.

Regulatory perspective on Quality of Service and Experience (QoS and QoE):

A more homogeneous environment for the assessment of QoS and QoE would deliver key benefits to national regulators, said CTOs.  The shift to packet-based communications and the increasing importance of over-the-top (OTT) applications introduces new challenges to the assessment of QoS and QoE. The prices of data and data-enabled devices are decreasing, making these assessment challenges progressively more relevant to developing countries.

CTOs recognized the value of ITU’s technical guidance to regulators on QoS and QoE, highlighting that collaboration in standardization builds common understanding and trust between regulators and network operators.

Towards intelligent networks:

Machine Learning holds great promise to enhance network management and orchestration. Drawing insight from network-generated data, Machine Learning can yield predictions to support the optimization of network operations and maintenance.

This optimization is becoming increasingly challenging, and increasingly important, as networks gain in complexity to support the coexistence of a diverse range of ICT services. Here CTOs expressed support for the work of the ITU-T Focus Group studying Machine Learning’s contribution to 5G and future networks.

Interaction between standardization and open source:

The use of open source in the development of both software and hardware will add value to standardization activities, said CTOs, activities that must be capable of supporting technological as well as business aspects of open-source development.

CTOs discussed examples of successful ITU interaction with open-source communities, highlighting the value of this interaction to both standardization and open-source projects. Proactive interaction, said CTOs, can result in working instances of standards and practical feedback to standardization projects, as well as standard-compliant code to open-source projects.


The theme for this year’s ITU Telecom World event, “Innovating together: connectivity that matters”, highlights the importance of global collaboration to ensure that everyone benefits from the digital revolution, especially those in developing nations, said ITU Secretary General Houlin Zhao.

“At stake is the chance to transform and improve the lives of millions across the globe in support of the [United Nations] Sustainable Development Goals and closing the digital divide,” said Mr Zhao. “I believe we can make a difference right here and now with ITU Telecom World 2019.”

From 9–12 September 2019, ITU Telecom World will explore innovations in technology, including new radio technologies, 5G, Artificial Intelligence and smart cities, as well as innovation in policy, strategy and regulatory approaches.

“There is no doubt: Innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence, 5G and the Internet of Things, can help us achieve the sustainable development goals and improve the lives of all,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said via video message during the opening ceremony.

But with the advance of new technologies such as 5G, Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things, there is a real danger that developing nations will be left further behind in the current digital revolution era.

Universal access to these technologies is just one aspect of creating inclusive global digital societies. Connectivity needs to have meaning. It must be affordable and relevant on a local level, which means local content in local languages, supported by digital literacy and skills programs.  Another vital aspect is ensuring technologies are trusted, which requires robust data management, increased education, and cyber-security.




5G dominates debate at CTO meeting in Budapest

ITU Telecom World gathers steam in Budapest

China Mobile reveals 5G network expansion plans; China Telecom and China Unicom agreement on 5G network sharing