Kathy Gibson is at ITU Telecom World in Durban – ICT has become a cornerstone of many countries’ economies, but governments need to do more to make it a reality for all citizens.

This is the word from Jianjun Zhou, vice-president of carrier business BG and vice-president: emerging market of Huawei, who says: “Digitalisation is now about life, communities and the economy of the country.”

Worldwide, 3,4-billion people live without Internet access – and 830-million of these are in Africa.

Mobile connectivity is still not available to 870-million worldwide, of which 660-million are in Africa.

There are 1,1-billion households worldwide without broadband connections, with 250-million of these in Africa

“So you can see we still have a big job,” says Zhou. “However, businesses are reluctant to invest in the region.”

Working together, government, operators and vendors can create an enabling environment that is atractive for investment, he says.

Government would be responsible for creating the top-level ICT plan. Together, government and operators should look at how to share infrastructure to ensure effective coverage.

Operators also need to find way to bring cost-effective services to as many users as possible, Zhou says.

Vendors are responsible for bringing new technologies and innovations to market. Example include technology for rural coverage and fibre-ready hardware.

Key to increasing digital coverage is that government needs to create a favourable environment.

Edward Zhou, vice-president: global public affairs at Huawei Technologies, points out that a 16% to 20% increment in ICT capital services leads to a 1% improvement in total GDP.

“That is a very significant figure,” he says “And there is also a lot of improvement in social services like education and healthcare.”

For ICT development to thrive, there needs to be a favourable policy environment, Zhou points out.

The old way that regulation works by focusing on traditional telecommunications services is gone, Zhou says. In the future, new technologies and new applications will drive new regulatory challenges.

However, governments need to act as an enabler to stimulate investment, innovation and competition.

Investment requires public-private partnerships, tax reliefs and subsidies, tariff concessions, infrastructure construction, collaboration, right of way allocations, and an open environment to encourage innovative technologies.

Innovation includes funding and investment, innovation hubs and incubators, talent training and cultivation, cyber security and privacy, and intellectual property protection.

Competition is key, so regulation needs to allow for operator competition, while frequent spectrum allocation and management will also foster competition

“We believe that in some countries there are too many operators,” says Zhou. “We believe that two to four  mobile network operators – depending on the size or development status of the country – creates a healthy competitive environment.”

Huawei has released a position paper of this subject, entitled: “Telcos: Investment, Innovation and Competition in ICT infrastructure”.