ITU Telecom World 2018 shines spotlight on innovation for smarter digital development

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ITU Telecom World 2018 concluded yesterday in Durban, South Africa following an action-packed week of debates, networking, showcasing and Awards. The event, which welcomed more than 3100 participants from 94 countries brought together an impressive line-up of top-level government representatives, influential industry leaders – from established players to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and from emerging and developed markets alike. Among these were over 200 information and communication technology (ICT) leaders from 74 countries, including 33 ministers, and 125 SME exhibitors from across the globe.

 “This week we have seen some awe-inspiring showcases, featuring the types of cutting-edge innovations that are truly at the forefront of ICT development," said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “It is innovations such as these, plus the shared visions and knowledge of technology experts such as those present this week that have the potential to truly reach and connect the unconnected and help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals."

In recognizing the importance of the event being held in South Africa, Siyabonga Cyprian Cwele, Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services for South Africa, said, “South Africa has been humbled by the honour of hosting this magnificent event and is grateful for the support it has received from the African countries and the rest of the world. We hosted this event in partnership with the private sector. The conference has provided an opportunity for Africa's voice to be heard in important global ICT debates and discussions. We shall take forward the advice of President Cyril Ramaphosa who said we must ensure that women, the youth and small-, medium- and micro-sized enterprises play a critical role in advances in technology. The legacy of having hosted this event in the year we celebrate the life of Tata Nelson Mandela must be to see the SMMEs which are exhibiting here blossoming. The possible partnerships, investment and new markets they were able to make must realise measurable returns. We must enhance collaboration on infrastructure rollout and digital skills training."

Exhibition highlights

The Telecom Exhibition included 300 exhibitors, sponsors and partners from 32 countries. Delegates explored innovative smart digital solutions, SMEs and technologies in fields such as e-health, e-agriculture, e-education, digital government services and digital finance. On show were life-enhancing innovations spanning such topics as intelligent agriculture (including “smart" mushroom cultivation and beehive management), health screening platforms, Internet of Things (IoT), powered energy security services, digital finance, digital finance, virtual reality and augmented reality (VR/AR), smart learning, smart cities, Internet of Vehicles and more.  

Forum debates

​​Under the broad theme of Innovation for smarter digital development, the Telecom Forum convened an influential global audience spanning governments, key ICT industry players, international organizations, high-growth SMEs, consultants, academia, media and more – including Euronews, which moderated the Forum Summit. An impressive 157 speakers from 47 countries in 43 panel sessions covered areas such as technological developments and impacts in 5G, IoT, Artificial Intelligence (AI), smart cities, digital literacy, supporting tech SME growth, and the challenges and opportunities of the digital age.

ITU Bureaux engaged across event


​ITU's three Bureaux: Telecommunication Standardization (TSB), Radiocommunication (BR) and Telecommunication Development (BDT), also actively took part in ITU Telecom World 2019.

TSB hosted a number of initiatives at ITU Telecom World centred on emerging technologies and innovation, including the workshop on mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) Rise of the MVNOs - Leveraging MVNOs in an 'everything connected' world. The “Smart ABC Programme" hosted discussions sharing insight into advances in Artificial Intelligence, banking and cities, in particular the importance of these advances to digital inclusion and sustainable development.  This included a forum session on “Artificial Intelligence: impact and ownership" to discuss how governments and citizens alike around the world can prepare to use AI for good. ITU also launched a new 'Smart ABC Incubator' with the support of Rwanda and Saudi Arabia, countries providing considerable institutional support for the growth of start-up tech cultures. The incubator will assist young innovators in converting ideas and software into start-ups able to attract investment.

The tenth annual Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Meeting, 9 September 2018, brought CTOs together to discuss industry needs and associated standardization priorities. The meeting issued a communiqué summarizing ICT trends of growing relevance to ITU standardization.

BDT organized a session which focused on digital innovation ecosystems, enabling smart digital development and skills development in the digital era. This included the launch of the report, Setting the Scene for 5G: Opportunities & Challenges, which sets out the landscape for ICT policy-makers, national regulatory authorities and operators as 5G technologies move ever closer; and the National Cybersecurity Strategy Guide, which can assist countries in the development and implementation of national cybersecurity strategies including cyber-preparedness and resilience. Additionally, the m-Powering Development Report 2018 was launched, which highlights many initiatives and projects demonstrating real progress being made in countries around the world.

Networking and announcements

Networking continued throughout the event, thanks to a full programme of networking occasions. Ghana Day and Zimbabwe night enabled delegates to meet with high-level ICT sector representatives of these countries. Delegates also connected online via the Event App, as well as utilizing the Business Matchmaking service, a professional platform for targeted meetings onsite, which enabled 141 meetings to take place during the week, connecting event participants from across the ICT ecosystem.

A number of key announcements were made and Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) signed, taking advantage of the global platform that the event offers. This included the launch by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development of its 2018 State of Broadband report.​

The host country, South Africa, also highlighted the African Digital Transformation Centre which will support entrepreneurs and lead work on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, based on key pillars of: policy and governance, innovation and SMEs, connecting the unconnected, and the social impact of digital transformation. 

A number of partnerships were forged during the week. An MoU was signed between CSAIA (China Satellite Application Industry Association) and ICDO (International Civil Defence Organization), in the presence of ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao and Vladimir Kuvshinov ICDO Secretary General, covering satellite application technology for emergency communications. MoUs were also signed between Republic of Korea's Frontis and South Africa, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Azerbaijan to provide virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) content, and Republic of Korea's Victony with the Burundi Innovation Hub to provide e-education content.​

ITU Telecom World Awards

The ITU Telecom World Awards 2018 Ceremony took place on the last day, with the much-awaited announcement of the winners and finalists. In keeping with ITU Telecom World's focus on SMEs and their role within the broader ICT ecosystem, these awards recognized excellence and innovation in ICT solutions with social impact from SMEs and corporations alike. During the week of the event, finalists pitched their ideas and innovations and fielded tough questions from the jury. SMEs could also take part in masterclasses and networking activities. See the full list of winners here

ITU Telecom World 2019

The next stop for ITU Telecom World 2019 will be Budapest, Hungary. The news was announced following a high-level meeting between ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao and Péter Sztáray, State Secretary for Security Policy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Hungary. ITU Telecom World 2019 will take place in September 2019, and will continue to act as the international platform connecting tech SMEs together with governments and corporates attracting ITU Member States, regulators, heads of international organizations, global media, digital experts and visionaries, leading ICT corporations and cutting-edge tech SMEs from the region and across the globe.

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