KAMPALA —Stakeholders in the telecommunications industry across Africa are converging in Uganda this week for a major international meeting on global standards.
The regional preparatory meeting for the forthcoming World Telecommunications Standardisation Assembly (WTSA), one of the structures of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), opens in Entebbe on Monday, 7th October 2019.
Based in Geneva, Switzerland, ITU is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for information and communication technology related matters.
For more than 150 years, ITU has worked with stakeholders around the world to forge co-operation in the global communications eco-system, telecommunications infrastructure development and radio frequency allocation.
In performing this role, ITU works through three sectors:
• Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R);
• Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T); and
• Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D).
Each sector’s work programmes are defined by an assembly or conference held every four years; the World Radio Communications (WRC); World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) and World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC).
The World Telecommunications Standardization Assembly (WTSA), which like the others is held every four years, sets the agenda of the International Telecommunications Union – Standardisation Sector (ITU – T) for the next 4 years.
Accordingly, WTSA-20 will take place in Hyderabad, India, in November 2020, and will be preceded by the Global Standards Symposium.
The last such assembly, WTSA-16, was held in Yasmine Hammamet, Tunisia, from 25th October to 3rd November 2016.
To generate common positions on major issues ahead of every World Telecommunications Standardisation Assembly (WTSA), regional preparatory meetings are held in different countries. It is in that regard that Uganda and Morocco were selected to host the regional preparatory meetings in Africa.
Consequently, at the Imperial Golf View Hotel in Entebbe, from 7th – 11th October, Africa’s telecommunications experts, government officials, private sector players and academia will brainstorm and harmonise their positions on contentious issues in telecommunications ahead of WTSA 2020.
Why telecommunications standards matter
Telecommunications Standards are necessary to define how the telecommunications ecosystem and networks operate. Standards facilitate interoperability (computer systems or software exchanging information across different devices) between global technical systems and interfaces.
Whether we exchange voice, video or data messages, standards enable global communications by ensuring that countries’ ICT networks and devices are speaking the same language.
Global standards also help to address the digital divide between developed and developing countries.
They ensure that technology developed can be consumed or shared by developing countries regardless of its origin.
With tremendous innovation and new technological trends such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things or 5G, standards are even more critical in helping to create a baseline of interoperability. Thus they help achieve volumes, leading to economies of scale.
Below are some of the study areas that underline the importance of standardisation within the scope of telecommunications and ICTs:
Operational aspects of service provision – For communication to happen, local and international networks interface and connect in order to ensure that consumers on different local and international networks can freely interact. This is made possible by standards developed within this scope to harmonise systems. Standards help in the assigning of international network codes as well as consumer numbering systems that allocate both users and their networks unique identities.
Economic and policy issues – These standards define and provide international benchmarks of the economic issues that are involved within the provision and use of ICT services. They come up with recommendations on caller rates, roaming and also recommend to member states how these can be achieved locally and regionally.
Protocols and test specifications – Given the different ICT device brands, ITU has developed minimum test requirements that ensure that all devices meet the minimum product quality.
These test specifications are what ITU member states, including Uganda, rely on when carrying out equipment and device type approval to protect consumers from inferior and counterfeit ICT devices and equipment.
Quality of service – ITU has developed and continues to develop minimum quality of ICT service standards that can enhance use experience and further adoption of ICT products and services.
Environment and circular economy – Cognizant of the amount of e-waste generated from the vast innovations in the digital age, ITU has developed standards and regulations on how the ICT ecosystem, including governments, industry, academia and consumers can work together to mitigate the negative outcomes in the form of e-waste.
Security –ITU, in collaboration with other industry stakeholders, has developed and continues to develop minimum acceptable interventions in the ICT ecosystem to ensure that all players (device manufactures, policy makers, users, network providers) adhere to the minimum requirements. With that, the consumers’ data and overall digital security are guaranteed as a means of building user confidence in use of ICTs.
Digital trends – With the ongoing digital revolution manifested in trends such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Smart Cities and Communities, the standards development group works to ensure that users/consumers of ICT products and services have a seamless experience without having to worry about the intricacies of who their service provider is, or who their device manufacturer is.
Given that areas of interest in ICT standardization continue to evolve, and that many are addressed by multiple standardization bodies, coordination among national, international and industry players is very critical.
As such, in order to ensure that the standards are fully representative of the ICT ecosystem, locally and internationally, standards development involves industry players (providers of ICT services); device and equipment manufacturers (providers of ICT devices and equipment); academia; and policy makers, and the local standardisation body.
According to officials, Uganda’s participation will enable the UCC, Uganda’s standardisation body, to align to the latest priority sector areas in standardisation while ensuring that Uganda’s needs and interests as a developing country are taken into account in the development of global telecommunications standards as well as the critical areas of study for the next four years.
What are Uganda’s areas of interest?
Numbering resource – Uganda seeks clearer calling line identification information. Currently it is difficult to trace the sources of nuisance calls or location of a caller in emergency situations.
Number spoofing is another challenge.
Callers are still able to manipulate caller identification (caller ID) information in order to falsify their name and phone number.
This can easily facilitate fraud and other adverse activities.
E-waste digital gap – Africa remains a dumping ground for used and obsolete electrical and electronics equipment because of affordability and the limitations in equipment manufacturing and affordability.
There is need to bridge the gap between the developed and developing countries, keeping in mind the product’s life cycle.
Climate change –There is need to emphasize the role of ICTs in combating global climate change related issues. Uganda is interested in the clear articulation of Africans’ socio-economic dependency on agriculture and how this sector is affected by climate change.
OTT regulation- Uganda is proposing an African Union declaration on all OTT related issues. While Africa is a net user of OTTs such as Facebook and Twitter, regulators are hard-pressed to impose local consumer protection, data protection, pricing and antitrust obligations upon cross-border OTTs in their markets.
Besides, OTT revenue flows remain skewed against African Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and infrastructure providers from whose networks OTTs thrive.
Digital financial products and services – New momentum in digital fiat currencies necessitates prioritization of mobile network infrastructure to support and facilitate this new world.