HONG KONG - The International Telecoms Union (ITU) has just been host to the December 5-7 Tenth International Telecommunication Development Symposium in Hong Kong as part of ITU Telecom World 2006.
At the symposium, information and communication technology (ICT) leaders, including 180 fellows from 90 least-developed and low-income ITU member states, met to discuss how ICT can help bridge the digital divide and drive growth in their countries. The event was organized by the ITU with support from Cisco Systems.
The symposium concluded that developing countries such as Cambodia are likely to benefit most from Next Generation Network (NGN) technologies, said Tony Bates, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco.
"We are at a transformational point in ICT development and developing nations like Cambodia are in an incredible position," he told the Post on December 5 in Hong Kong. "They have a minimum amount of fixed legacy and are thus in a position to leapfrog forward."
Developing countries such as Cambodia do not have "fixed legacy" - meaning well-established telecommunications infrastructure. Consequently, they have no need to pay for expensive overhauls of such systems but can simply "leapfrog" to using advanced fixed and wireless technologies.
"It is a real advantage for developing countries to be starting from scratch," Bates said.
Cambodia has already made tremendous strides towards increasing connectivity by using fixed, wireless and mobile technologies, Bates said. But there is wide consensus within the industry that the next phase of networked communications will be based upon NGN technologies that promise to achieve enhanced connectivity through cost-effective and sustainable infrastructure development and management, he said.
"Already, innovative ICT projects in Cambodia have helped connect remote rural schools to the internet," Bates said. "With NGN technology, things can only get better."
According to the ITU, the concept of NGN technology covers the transition from traditional circuit-switched networks to higher-capacity, lower-cost packet-based or Internet Protocol (IP) infrastructures. These are essential to take advantage of new opportunities for development and to bridge the digital divide - meaning the gap between countries with access to ICT and those without.
The concept of NGN technology spans both the fixed and wireless worlds, so that the same services can be delivered no matter what access technology is used - whether it is a mobile device, a fixed-network broadband connection, or a fixed wireless connection.
As a result, the ITU argues that NGNs promise to foster the use of communications for greater socio-economic development, including E-education, E-health, and E-government, and enable countries to boost productivity and growth.
As a concrete example of the capacity of ICT to contribute to socio-economic development, Bates cited a First Mile Solutions project in Cambodia, called "Internet Village Motoman," which used new ICT to provide internet access for 15 solar-powered village schools, telemedicine clinics, and the governor's office in a remote province of Cambodia using five Honda motorcycles
The project worked by equipping new schools in the villages with solar panels on the roof to provide sufficient energy to run a computer for six hours and providing an e-mail link via a motorcycle delivery system.
Early every morning, the five motorcycles leave the hub in the provincial capital of Banlung where a satellite dish, donated by Shin Satellite, links the provincial hospital and a special skills school to the Internet for telemedicine and computer training.
The moto drivers, equipped with a small box and antenna at the rear of their vehicle that downloads and delivers e-mail through a wi-fi (wireless) card, begin the day by collecting the e-mail from the hub's dish, which takes just a few seconds.
Then, as they pass each school and one health center, they transmit the messages they downloaded and retrieve any outgoing mail queued in the school or health center computer that is also equipped with a similar book-sized transmission box, and go on to the next school. At the end of the day they return to the hub to transmit all the collected e-mail to the Internet for any point on the globe.
"This is an example of technology changing the quality of life, it is testament to the power of engineering," Bates said. "[The telecommunications industry is] not inventing technology for technology's sake, we respond to consumer demand across the broadest possible consumer base."
The ITU development symposium highlighted the fact that developing nations are now a major part of that consumer base, and have now become the primary focus of the telecommunication industry's attention, particularly with regards to NGN technology, said Fernando Lagraña, executive manager of ITU Telecom.
"The industry has the potential of benefiting the developing world in ways we hadn't even deemed possible a few years ago," he said. "We must ensure that the future of the industry is shaped by the needs of the least developed and developing world."