A major showcase for cutting edge information and communication technologies (ICT) that includes an industry exhibition, ITU TELECOM AFRICA presents a unique forum for brainstorming and an important networking platform for both governments and the private sector to chart the future course of the ICT industry.
Some 200 companies from 45 countries, including several from outside the African region, are exhibiting products, applications and services.
Around 70 heads of international companies and 50 ministers along with key regulators and investment bodies are attending the event from 12 to 15 May.
ITU TELECOM AFRICA has already attracted over 5000 participants from 93 countries, marking a record since the event was opened to countries from outside the region, and includes 600 Forum participants and 200 media.
While the exhibition underscores the latest developments in the ICT market, the Forum sessions offer both regional and global insights on Africa’s position in the ICT sector, its unique market drivers, and the host of factors critical in sustaining its most effective enabling environment.
The 30 Forum sessions cover topics such as public-private partnerships, entrepreneurial success stories, capacity building and cybersecurity.
Over 150 speakers will participate in the Forum sessions, which also include the Youth Forum and the Telecommunication Development Symposium.
A highlight of the formal opening was the Press launch of ITU’s regional report, “African Telecommunication/ICT Indicators 2008: At a Crossroads”. Following booming growth in the mobile telephony sector – which saw 65 million new subscribers in 2007- and an encouraging investment climate spurring economic development in the region, Africa is a continent on the move: the theme for ITU TELECOM AFRICA 2008.
The Indicators Report is an invaluable information tool to inform and guide policy-makers, investors, analysts and other observers of Africa’s telecommunications landscape.
It contains an extensive overview of key sector developments, including a number of recommendations to sustain growth and deepen access to ICT in the region.
At the opening ceremony, the Prime Minister of Egypt Dr Ahmed Nazif highlighted the impressive developments in the ICT sector in Africa.
“As all African people are looking forward to the future, TELECOM AFRICA brings in members of the ICT community both in Africa and around the world to identify the areas of opportunities and those of challenge, share effective responses and witness major achievements,” the Prime Minister said.
“The African ICT sector – with all its technical, financial, and manpower potentials -has gives us a competitive edge.” He added that IT-enabled services and Internet-based tools emerge as new horizons from which African countries can benefit.
Dr Hamadoun Touré, ITU Secretary-General said that ITU TELECOM AFRICA 2008 is a strategic step in bridging the digital divide. “This event in Cairo marks a decisive milestone in our commitment to connecting the world,” said Dr Touré. He challenged the ICT industry to explore the many opportunities that are available across the continent – and which would be on display during the week – to forge the tools that can act as catalysts in other sectors of the economy and of society, such as health, education, business, agriculture, and government services.
Addressing the opening Press conference, Dr Touré said, “Africa has been the fastest growing market worldwide over the last three years,” adding that much of this growth had been stimulated by competition, policy and regulatory reform in most African telecommunication markets. “Today, the African ICT industry is an exciting place to be. Market liberalization continues and most countries have established regulatory bodies to ensure a fair, competitive and enabling environment”.
“Today, more than ever, as the world shifts towards an information age that is transforming it into a global village, technology contributes to the core of economic growth and better living standards,” said Dr Tarek Kamel, Minister of Communications & Information Technology of Egypt.
“It is our obligation to pave the way for African citizens who are not yet online, investigate what the barriers are, work on overcoming them and make sure to maximize Africa’s share of the next billion users of the cyber world.” He added, “It is our obligation to encourage and attract further investments from Africa and from the rest of the world to make use of the growing market opportunities”.
Mr Naguib Sawiris, CEO of Orascom Telecom, speaking on behalf of the industry said the mobile revolution would play a role in every aspect of life, from banking and travel to cultural pursuits and entertainment, and even to the strengthening of democracy.
Mr Reza Jafari, Chairman of the ITU TELECOM Board of Directors commented that many people have the misconception that there is no money to be made in Africa. “But that is wrong,” he said. “I believe if there is a new business model, ICT services can be provided at low cost – and this would help expand the industry even further.”
During a tour of the exhibition, Prime Minister Nazif launched the ITU Global View, an interactive map-based tracking tool developed in coordination with Microsoft and IDV Solutions.
The software integrates existing ITU data sources allowing users to check the status, identify gaps and avoid overlaps in collaborative ICT-for-development programmes around the world.
He said the tool was very “pertinent”, showing good comparisons between countries in Africa. ITU Global View is designed to help implement the connectivity goals of the World Summit on the Information Society.
As the end of the first decade of the new millennium approaches, Africa stands at a crossroads with ICT policy makers faced with important choices.
Launching the ITU African Telecommunication/ICT Indicators 2008 report, Mr Sami Al Basheer Al Morshid, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, said Africa presented several growth opportunities in the ICT sector.
Growth in Africa’s mobile sector has defied all predictions. Africa remains the region with the highest annual growth rate in mobile subscribers and added no less than 65 million new subscribers during 2007.
At the beginning of 2008, there were over a quarter of a billion mobile subscribers on the continent.
Mobile penetration has risen from just one in 50 people at the beginning of this century to almost one third of the population today.
Mobile subscribers are also now more evenly distributed.
In 2000, South Africa accounted for over half of all Africa’s mobile subscribers, but by 2007, almost 85% were in other countries. Mobile success, driven largely by competition, is also spawning new services such as micro-payment prepaid recharging, single rate inter-regional roaming and the uptake of m-commerce applications.
While mobile services have become more accessible and affordable, Internet access has not kept pace.
It is estimated that there were some 50 million Internet users in Africa in 2007, translating into around one person among twenty.
Over half of the region’s Internet users are estimated to be located in North African countries and South Africa. In Sub Saharan Africa,
only three per cent of the population is online. The scarcity of international Internet bandwidth and lack of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) drives up prices.
As a result, Africa is the most costly for Internet access. The average monthly Internet subscription is almost USD 50 in Africa, close to 70% of average per capita income.
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