INTERVIEW with Godfrey Mutabazi
What is the World Telecommunications and Information Society Day (WTISD) all about?
The World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) is commemorated around the world to raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) can bring to societies and economies, as well as focusing the world on ways to bridge the digital divide.
In November 2005, I can not remember the exact date, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) called upon the UN General Assembly to declare 17 May as “World Information Society Day” to focus on the importance of ICT and the wide range of issues related to the information society as raised by the World Summit of Internet Society (WSIS)
This year, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of World Telecommunication and Information Society Day which is celebrated annually since 1969, and the day 17 May marks the founding of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in 1865 when the first International Telegraph Convention was signed in Paris.
How relevant is the ITU in the field of standardisation?
The ITU is the U.N. specialised agency for telecommunications; that has played an essential role in forging cooperation in the global communications system, telecommunications infrastructure development and the allocation of the radio frequency spectrum.
This year the WTISD 2019 is themed on “Bridging the standardisation gap”. The standardisation gap has, over the years, been growing more significant between developing and developed countries. This is mainly an outcome of different levels of industrialisation. Therefore, setting telecommunications standards is a fundamental pillar of ITU’s mission as the specialised agency of the United Nations for information and communication technologies (ICTs), and ITU standards are recognised for helping acceleration ICTs for Sustainable Development Goals.
Why are standards important?
Let me focus on Telecommunications Standards here for a while. Telecommunication standards define how the telecommunication ecosystem and networks operate. Standards facilitate interoperability between global technical systems and interfaces. Since standardisation is inherently a social enterprise, it is the perfect environment for promoting technologies that evolve an increasingly social world. Standardisation plays a vital role in globalisation and the active development of information and communication technologies (ICT).
Therefore, bridging the standardisation gap hinges on getting more developing countries participating and contributing to the development of international telecommunications standards. This would ensure that the fundamental needs of developing countries are catered for and captured during standards development. In essence, it would also help build capacity to localise international standards to the needs of our local telecommunications markets and ecosystems.
How relevant are standards in our everyday life?
Standards in the context of globalisation help to address the digital divide between developed and developing countries. They ensure that technology developed can be consciously unanimously consumed, used and shared by developing countries regardless of its origin.
In the dawn of tremendous innovation and new technological trends like Artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of things (IoT), 5G, standards help in creating a baseline of interoperability; they help achieve volumes leading to the benefits of “economies of scale.”
For an everyday person, standards are critical to the interoperability of ICTs, and whether we exchange voice, video or data messages, standards enable global communications by ensuring that ICT networks and devices are speaking the same language.
What is equally important to note is that technical studies and experiences inform standardisation and Uganda contributes to this process by sharing technical and other information to enrich the standards development process. The Uganda Communications Commission participates in several study groups that develop standards which builds into the national standards development process usually guided by international standards from the ITU, ISO, 3GPP, IEEE and GSMA in collaboration with different local stakeholders like Operators and other government agencies.
How can I see standards at work or being used?
Standards are of different kinds and may include; Functionality requirements e.g how a cellular network works and digital television technology; Health and safety requirements e.g. transmission power limits and exposure; Measurement, tests, analytical methods and conformity assessment e.g measurement of Quality of Service, testing equipment; Symbols like 2G, 3G and 4G, power symbols; Labelling e.g inclusion of infusion on the make, model and conformity assessment.
Let me use the scope of telecommunications and ICT’s to illustrate some critical use case scenarios for standards.
Operational aspects of Service provision – The standards have helped to harmonise how consumers on different local and international networks interface and connect in-order to ensure that while consumers may be on various local networks and global networks, they can freely connect. Standards are used to assign international network codes as well as consumer numbering system that allocates both users and their networks unique identities.
Economic and Policy Issues – Standards define and provide international benchmarks of the economic issues that are involved within the provision and use of ICT products and services. They come up with a minimum recommendation on caller rates, roaming and go ahead to recommend to member states how these can be achieved locally and regionally.
Protocols, Test Specifications and Interoperability – because there are different ICT device manufacturers and brands, ITU has developed minimum test requirements that will ensure that the devices meet the minimum product quality that can guarantee the users stable access to ICT Products. These test specifications are used by ITU member states, including Uganda, when carrying out equipment and device type approval to protect consumers from inferior and counterfeit ICT devices and equipment. They generally enable devices and networks to connect and work together.
Quality of Service Standards – ITU has developed and continues to establish the minimum quality of ICT service standards that enhances the user’s experience and allows for further adoption by ICT providers of products and services. Several countries, including Uganda, have adopted these standards, and the Uganda Communications Commission uses the same for monitoring, inspection and evaluation of operator performance in service delivery.
Environment and Circular Economy – Cognizant of the amount of e-waste generated as an outcome of the vast innovation in the digital age, ITU has developed standards and regulations of how the ICT ecosystem including governments, industry, Academia and consumers can work together and mitigate the adverse outcomes in the form of e-waste. The same standards are being localised regionally under the umbrella body the East African Communications Organisation of which Uganda is a member.
Security –ITU in collaboration with other industry stakeholders has developed and continues to create minimum acceptable interventions in the ICT ecosystem that ensures and guarantees that all players (device manufacturers, policymakers, Users, Network Providers) adhere to the minimum requirements that ensure that the consumers overall digital security are guaranteed as a means of building user confidence in use of ICTs
Safety and reliability – These are standards that help ensure safety, reliability and environmental care. Substandard devices and installations pose a threat to users and persons in the vicinity. They also impact the quality of services
Digital trends like Future Networks, Cloud computing, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things and Smart Cities and communities – In the advent of all these and vastly upcoming digital trends, the Standards development group is working to ensure that users of ICT products and Services have a seamless experience without having to worry about the intricacies of who their service provider is, or who their device manufacturer is.
How is Uganda collaborating on Standardisation?
Given that ICT standardisation continues to evolve, and that multiple standardisation bodies address many unique aspects, the need for coordination among International, national governments and industry players is very critical. Some of the areas that have required numerous standardisation bodies include; Conformance and Interoperability Testing, ICT and Climate change, Child Online Protection, Internet of Things; Cloud computing, accessibility and human factors, and high-level network interfaces.
Some of the other international bodies that are collaborating in the area of standardisation include: ITU – International Telecommunications Union; ISO – International Organisation for Standardisation; IEC – General safety of all electronic equipment; regional bodies like; ETSI – General RF, Electronic and Electromagnetic conformance; Industry bodies like; GSMA – Association that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide; IEEE – Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers; 3GPP – The 3rd Generation Partnership Project a standards organization developing protocols for mobile telephony
In this regard, Uganda represented by the Communications Commission participates in several technical working groups, some of which are chaired by Uganda. The Commission fully engages in the following technical working groups for standards development. ITU-T SG2 – Numbering resources; ITU-T SG3 – Economic issues relating to tariffs, roaming of services, interconnection, mobile financial services, etc; ITU-T SG 5 – environment and climate change including e-waste, health risks from electromagnetic fields (EMFs) produced by telecommunication installations; ITU-T SG 11 – dealing with among others conformance and interoperability (C&I) testing and counterfeit devices; ITU-T SG 12 – Quality of service issues
To ensure that standards are fully representative of the ICT ecosystem, locally and internationally, standards development involves Industry players (Providers of ICT Services); Device and equipment manufacturers (Providers of ICT Devices and equipment); Academia; and policymakers and the local standardisation body. Each of these entities has a direct and unique contribution to the standards development process locally and internationally.
What standards has UCC developed?
Some of the standards that the Uganda Communications Commission has developed and adopted for Uganda include;
- National Numbering Plan – the structure of the unique identification of components in the Telecommunications ecosystem at International, Regional, Local and network levels.
- Minimum specifications for STBs and IDTVs – as a result of the requirement of the Analogue to Digital Migration.
- Digital terrestrial broadcasting Transmission – DVB T2 – Adopted for the broadcasting transmission in Uganda.
- Standards for broadcast programmes in Uganda – these are general standards to be observed for broadcasting in the Republic of Uganda and are applicable in conjunction with relevant legislation and license conditions.
- Minimum broadcasting Standard – these are statutory provisions of the Uganda Communications Act laid out in section 31, Schedule 4.
- Quality of Service measurement for voice and postal services – developed for the monitoring, analysis and evaluation of operator services that impact on the quality of experience.
Your final word on WTISD 2019 Day
I encourage the communications sector to engage with national and international standardisation bodies especially on capacity building to improve the implementation of standards in the communications ecosystem just like we the regulators are equally focusing on capacity building for purposes of enforcement of these standards in the ICT ecosystem.
In this regard, the Uganda Communications Commission will continue collaborating with the relevant national and international organisations on matters relating to communications, especially working with academia to foster research and development that will increase local capacity in standards development. I encourage Academia, Operators and Civil society to participate more in Uganda’s ICT industry and the standardisation work of the ITU. Thank You.