Africa Can Leapfrog into 21st Century: Building on the Success of ITU Telecom Africa 2001, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Telecom Africa 2004 Exhibition and Forum Takes Place from May 4 to 8 This Year in Cairo, Egypt. Bianca Wright Details Its Aims

Article excerpt

Telecommunications in Africa has the potential to leapfrog the continent past older technology into the use of innovative new technologies that offer many benefits to Africa. But there are challenges that must be met and it is the responsibility of government, industry and the regulatory agencies across the continent to work together to overcome the challenges, grow the sector and develop the countries of Africa through telecommunications.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Telecom Africa 2004 exhibition will address the issues and challenges facing telecommunications throughout Africa. The event will also include a Telecom Development Symposium (TDS) and a Youth Forum. The ITU is a worldwide organisation which brings governments and industry together to coordinate the establishment and operation of global telecommunication networks and services.

The ITU is responsible for standardisation, coordination and development of international telecommunications including radio communications as well as the harmonisation of national policies. This forum and exhibition is part of its regional activities.

It is vital that Telecom Africa 2004 focus on the reality of telecommunications in Africa rather than the hype.

The ITU seems to recognise the very real challenges facing Africa. Nevertheless, with a total teledensity of 55 lines for every thousand people and an internet penetration rate of only 8.5 users per thousand, the challenges facing Africa are enormous.

The forum will see industry players, regulatory agencies, investment partners and government officials from across the continent debating, discussing and strategising around these issues, while demonstrating the very real potential Africa possesses in this sector.

ADVANTAGE AFRICA

The theme of the event is Advantage Africa, which reflects the ITU's optimism that Africa can take the challenges it is facing and turn them to its advantage, becoming a role model for the development of telecommunications in developing countries.

According to the ITU, in the period between Telecom Africa 2001 and Telecom Africa 2004, mobile subscribers in the region have more than doubled. Africa was the first region in the world where mobile phones overtook the number of fixed line telephones, an excellent example of how Africa's problem--in this case lack of copper infrastructure--can assist it in innovating and leapfrogging technologies to deal with those issues.

Issues addressed at the Telecom Africa 2004 will include the expansion of the mobile market and the management of internet resources. Most of the topics explored will focus on one of five areas--namely creating successful business models, policy challenges, appropriate technologies, using ICTs to achieve Nepad objectives and Africa's relationships with the world.

The forum will not shy away from tough issues. One of the workshop session, for example, will look at voice over IP (VoIP), more specifically at how, while the internet is generating considerable revenues for the Public Telecommunication Operators (PTO) of Africa, it is also threatening their traditional revenue sources, especially from long-distance and international voice services.

Chaired by Michael Robin Jensen, an independent telecom consultant from South Africa and with presentations from Omar Ndow, managing director of Gambia Telecommunications Company and John Stowe, managing director of Africa for US-based Net2Phone, among others, the session will address the issue of what strategy will work better for Africa: ignoring VoIP or embracing it. A session on policy visions, chaired by Walda Roseman, chairman and CEO of CompassRose International, will focus on how policy in Africa needs to develop. The growth that was experienced elsewhere in the world in the 1990s has finally arrived in Africa too, says the ITU. But can the region avoid the crash that followed? …