Kathy Gibson is at ITU Telecom World in Durban – A strong call for co-operation and policy certainty is already emerging at the ITU Telecom World taking place in Durban this week.

Houlin Zhao, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, calls for co-operation by all nations in ensuring access to connectivity for the world’s population.

“This is the opportunity for African countries to make their voices count and shape development in the next decade and beyond,” he says.

“It is an honour, as the government and people of South Africa, to host this event for the first time on the African continent,” says President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“We feel honoured that the ITU – the oldest agency in the UN family – has chosen to come to Africa, and particularly South Africa, to hold this event.”

“We are at the dawn of a digital revolution that will reshape the way we work, live and relate to one another,” Ramaphosa says.

“Technological change is proceeding at a pace never seen before. We need to harness it for the betterment of humanity.”

He says we have the opportunity to direct the advancement of ICT for the achievement of a better life for all. “We need to ensure that the fourth industrial revolution improves the human condition. And it must do so on an inclusive basis so no-one is left behind.”

The digital revolution must also respond to the needs of the developing world and its economies, Ramaphosa adds.

“It must enhance the growth of the economy and contribute to overcoming some of the challenges of unemployment, inequality and poverty.

“It must also bridge the digital divide, and not widen it, so that as we develop technologies we must bear in mind that they must not be the preserve of the elite, or elite areas, but must be utilised by all.

“It must employ the latest communication technology and data analytics to overcome some of the world’s greatest challenges.”

He calls on government and industry to work closely to solve the problems and ensure digital inclusivity.

“It is critical that both government and industry develop effective, collaborative relationships with the communities they are both supposed to service,” Ramaphosa says.

This includes the rollout of connectivity to rural areas and low-cost housing areas that are not seen as economically viable – and yet connectivity is critical for those areas to advance.

“The rapid expansion of broadband is a priority for our country, as well as others on the African continent. That is the real key as a determinant of economic inclusion and growth.”

Ramaphosa points out that there are currently 20-million South Africans who do not have Internet access. “This is a challenge that has to be solved.

“At the same time, 87% of households have access to mobile phones,” he adds. “This presents us with a great opportunity to grow inclusion and to drive growth.

To help kickstart the rollout of mobile communications, government has decided to accelerate the licencing of spectrum in the 2.6GHz, 700MHz and 800MHz bands, Ramaphosa explains.

“We have concluded deep and thoroughgoing negotiations with the telecommunications operators. We aim to reduce barriers to entry and promote competition and reduce the cost to consumers.”

Icasa is now preparing to licence high-demand spectrum Ramaphosa adds. “We have begun preparation of 5G licencing spectrum as part of our efforts to build a smarter economy.”