Big data, spectrum crunch and network funding are hot issues for ITU’s GSR-14

Big data, spectrum crunch and new network funding are hot issues for ITU’s GSR-14 which was hosted by Bahrain’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority under the patronage of prime minister HRH Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa.

Chaired by TRA chairman Dr Mohammed Alamer, over 700 leading specialists from 113 countries worldwide registered to attend the event, which grappled with the many complex legal and public policy issues raised by our increasingly interconnected digital environment.

With the theme of ‘Capitalizing on the potential of the digital world’ the event was one of the best attended GSR events ever, attracting around 80 VVIPs and VIPs, including government ministers, heads of regulatory agencies and C-level industry executives.

The event was officially opened by Sheikh Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, deputy premier of Bahrain, Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohamed bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, minister of state for Telecommunications Affairs, and ITU secretary general Dr Hamadoun I Toure.

The conference heard how the fast-growing global store of huge data volumes generated by high-tech sensors, human interaction over web, email and social media sites, and machine-to-machine communications is creating a host of new business opportunities as well as concerns about privacy and the use of personal data by third parties.

Leading Wednesday’s session on Big Data, GSR Discussion Paper co-author Andrew Haire reminded delegates that 90 percent of the world’s data has been collected over the past two years. With storage costs now low, the trend towards long-term storage of almost any kind of data – even information with no immediate obvious value – creates new potential for improving social services in areas like epidemiology, environmental management and disaster response, but also raises concerns about privacy protection and over-concentration of the data collection market into powerful monopolies.

Regulators need to be proactive about putting in place frameworks to harness the social benefits of Big Data while exercising foresight in protecting legitimate consumer concerns.

Consumer empowerment and the need to share resources were leitmotifs of this year’s event, as regulators stressed the social importance of affordable ICT access, and operators and service providers sought ways of enhancing competition and bringing new products to market in the most cost-effective ways possible.

The need for more radio frequency spectrum to alleviate ‘spectrum crunch’ and support a growing array of wireless services was one issue where concepts around shared spectrum approaches stimulated vigorous debate, both during a pre-event workshop hosted by ITU’s Radio Communication Bureau, and at a special session on spectrum licensing.

During an animated discussion, several speakers and delegates stressed the importance of reliable spectrum allocations that deliver return on investment for ICT players and service quality for users, urging regulators to be open to evolution while ensuring the protection of existing services.

In Wednesday’s Network Debate session, experts from the policy-making sphere, the telco community and the satellite industry also emphasized sharing – this time, of infrastructure, as part of innovative strategies that can help the ICT industry grow networks in today’s largely privatized environment, where national governments – the builders of most of today’s existing fixed copper and fiber networks – no longer directly fund new network build-out.

Panelists noted that shared approaches can help new players enter markets, stimulating competition and giving consumers great choice. They also emphasized that in a highly capital-intensive sector, good levels of return on investment are essential, as are clear and predictable regulatory frameworks that promote investor confidence.

For regulators, that means ICT frameworks need to be flexible enough to support innovation and new business models while ensuring current players still have the opportunity to develop and grow their operations.

Outputs from the meeting will be incorporated into the next edition of ITU’s flagship regulatory report, Trends in Telecommunication Reform, which will be released in the coming months.

In his closing address to GSR-14 delegates, the director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, Brahima Sanou said, “Capitalizing on the potential of the digital world can only be achieved through collaborative efforts, resulting in effective and smart regulation. Empowering consumers, redefining responsibilities and creating the conditions for all citizens to benefit from the potential of the digital world further calls upon cooperation at all levels, national, regional and international.”

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