Mobile operator groups have pledged more than $9-billion to extend global connectivity.

Alongside the new commitments, the UN Digital Agency also announced that it now has over 1 000 industry, academia and organisational members in addition to its 193 Member States. This milestone marks the largest, most diverse membership in the agency’s history.

The new industry commitments raise to over USD 46 billion the total current value of planned investment in infrastructure, services and support to ITU’s Partner2Connect Digital Coalition since the platform opened in March 2022.

“Universal meaningful connectivity is within our grasp,” says ITU Secretary-General Doreen Bogdan-Martin. “Thanks to these new commitments, millions of people will benefit from accessible and affordable connectivity across the world.”

The commitments, announced at Mobile World Congress happening this week in Barcelona, include:

* e&: $6-billion between 2024 and 2026 for accessible and affordable network connectivity and digital services across countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

* China Telecom: Over $1,4-billion to rollout fibre-to-the-home (FTTH), providing high-quality information and communication services to over 80-million people in remote administrative villages across China.

* Ooredoo: $1,1-billion for connectivity in the developing markets ranging from North Africa to the Indian Ocean.

* VEON: $600-million in building the infrastructure of Ukraine, providing connectivity and digital services essential to the reconstruction of the country.

“I applaud the ITU Secretary-General’s focus on the importance of infrastructure investment to enable the digital economy,” says John Giusti, chief regulatory officer at GSMA. “Mobile operators continuously invest in deploying and upgrading their networks, delivering benefits to citizens in all corners of the globe. I congratulate e&, China Telecom, Ooredoo and VEON on their investment pledges. I am encouraged that MWC is the event of choice for such commitments and for collaboration between the public and private sectors.”

According to data from ITU, 2,6-billion people remain offline worldwide. As telecommunications infrastructure forms the backbone of connectivity and digital transformation, it is vital for closing that global digital divide and overcoming development impediments in areas from education and health to government services and trade.

ITU has called for $100-billion in overall investments by 2026 to provide the expertise and resources required to extend universal, meaningful connectivity and sustainable digital transformation to every corner of the globe.

In addition to infrastructure, Partner2Connect commitments can support other critical needs including building digital skills and increasing digital inclusion. The new commitments from e&, China Telecom, Ooredoo and VEON are expected to be implemented over the next two to five years.

ITU’s expanded membership base will build on the UN Digital Agency’s contribution to the UN system. Global membership has evolved over the organization’s 159-year history to reflect changing technologies and the expanding digital ecosystem in our everyday lives.

“We are excited to welcome our new members, who join ITU’s long history of innovation built on public-private partnerships that have shaped technology’s place in society,” says Bogdan-Martin. “This multi-stakeholder model of collaboration will continue to be a strong force in the UN system to bridge the digital divide and build an inclusive, safe and sustainable digital future for all.”

ITU’s industry members collaborate with governments, academia, and civil society to develop new international standards and guidelines that shape the future digital economy. ITU members together implement projects and initiatives extending access to digital services across the world.

Two-thirds of ITU’s sector members are from industry, with the rest divided between academia and regional or international organizations. They come from developed and developing economies in regions spanning the globe.