ITU, GSMA collaborate on developing markets

By John Blau, IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

Two global telecommunication organizations have agreed to collaborate in boosting mobile phone access in developing countries.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an arm of the United Nations responsible for telecommunications issues, and the GSM Association (GSMA), which represents the interests of GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) operators, will work together in several areas, including projects aimed at low-cost access to mobile phone services, the two organizations said Tuesday.

While GSMA is keen to help its members penetrate huge developing markets such as Africa, the ITU sees wireless as a relatively quick and cost-efficient way to provide phone service to people in countries lacking traditional fixed-line telephone infrastructure.

The two organizations will focus on three primary areas: low-cost access to phone service, industry and government cooperation in planning and financing, and industry benchmarking.

To help spur low-cost access to mobile phone services, GSMA and ITU will draw on programs each has established for developing markets and identify projects in which the two groups can pool their expertise and resources. While the GSMA has created its own development fund and introduced contests to encourage the development of low-cost handsets, the ITU has launched its Connect the World initiative, a project to reduce the digital divide.

Together, GSMA and ITU also intend to forge partnerships with governments and companies to assist with planning and investment. A key goal will be to establish a regulatory environment to safeguard investments in emerging markets and pursue innovative approaches for the use of universal services funds to expand wireless access in rural and remote communities.

Universal service funds are used mostly by governments in developing countries to subsidize the rollout of telecommunications services. Last year, GSMA estimated that governments in 15 countries have collected US$6 billion for their universal service funds, including $2 billion that came from levies on mobile operators. Of this amount, governments have spent $1.6 billion, leaving billions untouched.

As for industry benchmarking, both GSMA and ITU have huge statistical databases, which they intend to use to help create key industry and performance indicators for improving decision-making.

Last week, GSMA published a study claiming that consumers and businesses in numerous developing countries are paying too much for international calls. Authors of the study call for introducing competition in international gateway services, a move that they claim could reduce call prices by up to 90 percent.

The use of mobile phone technology to connect people will be a focus of the GSM World Congress, which begins next week in Barcelona.

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