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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.

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? And what types of policy are needed in those countries where the vast majority of telecommunication users have mobile phones rather than fixed-line telephones? Finally, should international cooperation be best pursued on a global, regional or sub-regional scale? These are the questions the session seeks to explore.

MOBILE AFRICA

A key panel session, titled Mobile Africa, will focus on how mobile technologies, already so prevalent in Africa, can further empower the people of the continent and enrich their daily lives.

Recognising that telecommunications and in particular mobile technology is key in economic and social development, the session will also focus on the most appropriate wireless technologies for extending access to those areas that are still under-served as well as the regulatory actions and policies needed to ensure further development in this area and to attract the necessary investment.

The panel will be chaired by Mark Mwandosya Tanzania's Minister of Communications and Transport and will include keynote speeches by Naguib Sawiris, chairman and CEO of Egypt's Orascom Telecom Holding, Strive Masiyiwa, founder and group CEO of Econet Wireless Holdings in Zimbabwe and Alan Knott-Craig, CEO of South Africa's Vodacom. The panellists themselves are drawn from the US, the United Kingdom and France.

The Building the Infrastructure session aims to help operators to make the right choices in terms of what types of technology to invest in. Questions to be asked include: Does existing wireless infrastructure support a migration to next generation technologies? And while every base station still relies on a fibre-optic cable for the "backhaul" route, what are the infrastructural choices involved? Does satellite technology have a wider role to play?

It also goes on to discuss the fact in Africa's many and densely populated urban centres, fixed-line communications still have an important role to play, questioning whether operators should be looking at upgrading existing copper to offer broadband, or examining alternatives such as fibre to the home (FTTH) and fixed wireless access solutions.

Osman Lofty El-Sayed, director and professor of the Development Research and Technological Planning Centre at Cairo University, will chair the session with Karl Xhanti Socikwa, CEO of South Africa's Transtel, offering the keynote address.

Case studies of successful telecommunications business models will be examined during the forum in an attempt to point the way towards sector sustainability and operator profitability.

Lessons drawn from these example companies and countries will offer African telecommunications service providers valuable insight into what might work and what might not. These studies will also focus on the specific challenges facing African businesses in this sector.

FINANCING THE SECTOR

The ITU recognises that investment and financing is vital to the development of the telecommunications sector and one of the event's sessions will focus on this pivotal issue. Chair and moderator, Hisham El-Sherif, chairman and CEO of Egypt's IT Ventures together with keynote speakers Justin T Thiombiano, Ministre des Postes et Telecommunications in Burkina Faso, Ibrahima N'Diaye, director of the Information Management and Methods Department at Tunisia's African Development Bank Group and Jay Naidoo, chairman of the Development Bank of Southern Africa, will discuss issues such as whether local and international small and medium-sized companies offer sustainable investment solutions as well as what financing strategies should be implemented and what the roles of the different players will be.

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Another of Africa's challenges, the fact that sending emails from one address in Africa to another usually involves a 'trip' to Europe or North America before the message is delivered, adding costs and limiting quality, will be tackled in the National and Pan-African IXP Workshop, chaired by Russell South-wood, founder and CEO of Balancing Act.

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The workshop will look to lessons learned from those African countries that have created national internet Exchange Points (IXPs) to keep local internet traffic local. The possibility of connecting regional IXPs into an African IXP will also be explored.

The session on Nepad and ICT will explore some important issues related to Nepad's ICT objectives. Admittedly, the objectives are ambitious, including the e-schools project, the East Coast submarine cable project and the African Virtual University. The session will focus more specifically on how ICTS can be used to achieve other broader objectives, such as building infrastructure, fighting poverty and hunger, capacity building and combating HIV/Aids.

This session, which brings together a number of eAfrica Commissioners including Lyndall Shope-Mafole, chairperson of South Africa's Presidential National Commission on Information Society and Development, and Jabulani Dhliwayo, assistant secretary general of the Nepad Council, looks at Nepad's progress to date and its future work programme.

ACCESS AFRICA

The Youth Forum, with its Access Africa theme, will gather young adults from 53 countries to participate and share their views with regards to issues related to the advancement of telecommunications in the region. Another side event is the Telecom Development Symposium which will bring together 100 professionals of mid to upper level management from 53 countries to discuss development of the sector in the region

According to the ITU, the exhibition will feature the latest technology, products and services including Mobile Solutions, Operators, PSTN, internet, Broadband, Network Access Providers, Next Generation Networks, Satellite, Computer hardware and software, Components and Accessories.

The event has drawn attention from a number of sectors and ITU estimates that, in addition to the 200 exhibitors, more than 600 high level participants will be at the forum and more than 200 members of the international media will cover the event.

ITU Telecoms Africa 2004 is set to bring together key industry and government players with the goal of addressing Africa's telecommunications challenges.
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Title Annotation:ITU Telecom Africa 2004
Author:Wright, Bianca
Publication:African Business
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:May 1, 2004
Words:1505
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