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UMTS Forum at World Telecommunication Development Conference: "Extending IMT 2000/UMTS Mobile Coverage in Developing Countries"

Ensuring access to information for all - bridging the digital divide

Mobile industry body The UMTS Forum www.umts-forum.org participates at this week's World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-06), being hosted from 7 to 15 March in Doha, Qatar. On this occasion Mr Yoshio Utsumi, ITU Secretary-General, welcomed the new partners including the UMTS Forum at today's "Connect the World Partners' Panel".

Recognising that IMT-2000/UMTS (Third Generation) mobile systems are not yet introduced in many markets due to cost and lack of suitable infrastructure, the UMTS Forum outlines in Doha this week its commitment to study possible ways that the "digital divide" can be reduced by extending mobile coverage to developing countries in a cost-efficient manner.

Addressing a media audience at WTDC-06, UMTS Forum Chairman Jean-Pierre Bienaim re affirmed the role of 3G/UMTS in providing affordable access to voice and data services for a wider proportion of the world's unconnected population.

"In a world of 6.5 billion inhabitants, the challenge now is to extend the benefits of wire-free communications beyond today's 2 billion mobile subscribers. Thanks to a robust framework of technical standards and availability of globally harmonised spectrum, 3G/UMTS provides an ideal platform to extend the benefits of mobile broadband, particularly in emerging economies where PC ownership and Internet access levels are currently low."

"There is no more doubt about the central role that telecommunications play in improving social and economic conditions in the developing world", continued Bienaim. "Mobile phones have now become the first globally affordable communications technology. Networks are quick to deploy and roll-out costs are comparatively low - and this is why the number of mobile users overtook the number of fixed line subscribers in Africa as long ago as 2001."

Extended coverage for 3G/UMTS in developing regions
Developing countries are typically poorly served by telecommunication infrastructures, particularly in low density population areas. Since mobile networks are characterised by lower roll-out costs and a higher speed of deployment than fixed networks, the extension of mobile coverage offers an efficient solution for providing these regions with the infrastructures required for their economic development.

Acknowledging the need to reduce the economic barriers to entry for deploying 3G/UMTS in emerging markets, the UMTS Forum has announced a new project in the framework of the ITU Connect the World Initiative. Titled "Extending IMT 2000/UMTS Mobile Coverage in Developing Countries to ensure everyone's access to information, bridging the digital divide", the project aims to:

- Provide a cost-effective extension of mobile coverage in sparsely populated areas. To this end, the UMTS Forum is urging for the identification at the forthcoming World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-07) a harmonised frequency band - namely 470-600 MHz for IMT-2000, its enhancements and IMT-Advanced - allowing extended coverage for IMT-2000/UMTS services compared with use of the 'core' 2GHz band.

- Support the deployment of mobile systems based on global open standards - as as opposed to proprietary standards adopted by one or few actors only - in order to benefit from economies of scale and competition between manufacturers.

- Ensure a fair regulatory treatment of mobile operators in the field of access to and usage of the radio spectrum, in particular when it comes to frequency fees.

- Implement spectrum allocation methods based on qualitative requirements (e.g. coverage, service offering) in addition to any economical criteria.

- Encourage the implementation of mobile networks in frequency bands which are harmonised worldwide.

"Mobile communication could contribute to the telecoms infrastructure development in lower density population areas, provided that they benefit from an enabling regulatory environment and globally harmonised in the 500 MHz frequency band range", commented Bienaim. "Indeed, IMT-2000/UMTS operators would need to deploy between five and six times fewer base station sites using frequencies around 500MHz compared to the 2GHz band. By agreeing on harmonised extension bands at these lower frequencies, administrations can play a major role in narrowing the digital divide in emerging markets through the cost-effective deployment of 3G/UMTS."

Connect the World Partners' Panel
Jean-Pierre Bienaim is a participant at the Connect the World "Partners' Panel" on Wednesday 8 March 2006, taking place from 15.00 to 17.00 at the Sheraton Hotel. With the theme "Connecting the unconnected by 2015: getting the job done", the session provides a platform for open, interactive discussion regarding concrete solutions to connect the unconnected, to be shared with participants in WTDC.

Addressing the panel session, Bienaim outlined the UMTS Forum's focus on activities targeted at facilitating the timely introduction of 3G/UMTS services in developing markets:

"Through our own studies and reports, attendance at regional seminars, workshops and dialogue with administrations, the UMTS Forum is actively promoting the creation of an enabling framework for 3G/UMTS, particularly in world regions where licenses have not yet been issued. With uptake of 3G/UMTS in developed markets accelerating rapidly, it's vital that emerging economies are given the same chance to embrace the socio-economic benefits that 3G/UMTS offers."