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Expanding our digital horizons

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Mr Houlin ZHAO, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union with Rajeev Suri, President and CEO, Nokia.

In 2015, the United Nations set out 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030. Those goals range from ending poverty and hunger to improving education, employment and economic growth opportunities.

Important and necessary goals, no doubt about it. They are also goals that will not be achieved unless we are able to harness the power of technology to accelerate progress. And that is where the work of the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, of which I am a newly appointed Commissioner, deserves special recognition, even as we’re aware that a lot more still needs to be done.

In the new connected world, there is a renewed opportunity to enhance the way people live and work each day - to make the world more productive, prosperous, efficient, safe, healthy, and smart.

We are already seeing how the combination of billions and billions of connected devices and sensors, linked to cloud-based analytics that drive automated and intelligent action, can do extraordinary things. Smart cities can be more liveable, sustainable cities. Autonomous driving can save lives and reduce emissions. Remote health care can reduce costs and improve well-being. The list can, and does, go on.


Bringing these benefits more to life to more people requires many things, but two most of all.

The first is access to connectivity everywhere. Not just connectivity, but connectivity that is both affordable and capable of meeting the needs of the use cases of the future.

Over the past decades, progress here has been massive. More people now have access to a mobile phone than they do to electricity. Billions of devices are now being connected. Overall, the change has been nothing short of extraordinary.

Of course, we are not yet done. “Connectivity deserts” remain in too many parts of the world, rural and urban, rich and poor. Imagine what 4.2 billion people in this planet who are still not connected to the Internet, especially in developing countries where fewer than one in ten people are online, can do when they are plugged into the connected world.

To continue to expand access to broadband, companies like Nokia are innovating and delivering new products; governments are making progress in providing clearer rules in areas like broadband policy; development banks are stepping in to finance broadband infrastructure; stakeholders are all partnering to collectively address this complex problem.

The second thing needed to bring the full benefits of the connected world to life is to break down the barriers that block easy and fast adoption of high-speed broadband connectivity.

For the telecom sector, this means a fundamental change in thinking. No longer can we focus solely on the regulatory policies that enable connectivity. Rather we need to think more broadly and work with those responsible for policy in areas like transportation, health, education, industry and more to ensure that we bring a multi-disciplinary approach to addressing the challenges we face and the opportunities to be tapped.

No longer can we think just about those places where national broadband plans are slow and static. Rather, we need to ensure that there is a global environment for fast and nimble experimentation, without the barriers of technological “walled gardens” that block innovation and slow progress.

No longer can we take a “build it and they will come” approach to connectivity. Rather we need to lead the way, and show the compelling use cases and the differences those use cases can make.


We also need to do all of this in a way in which privacy and security are built in from the start, not added on as an after-thought at the end.

I was pleased to be able raise these issues in my first meeting as a newly appointed Commissioner at the Broadband Commission. That meeting took place on March 13 in Dubai, and I was encouraged to see similar thinking among many of my fellow Commissioners.

No doubt there is plenty of work still to be done, but I left Dubai feeling energized and optimistic that we are moving in the right direction to better harness the power of technology in order to enable the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in the years ahead.

Photo credits: ITU

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Rajeev Suri

About Rajeev Suri

During his tenure as Nokia CEO, Rajeev transformed Nokia into a leading technology company for a world connected by 5G and shaped by increasing digitalization and automation. Under his leadership, Nokia acquired Alcatel-Lucent, successfully expanded into enterprise vertical markets, created a standalone software business, and engineered the return of the Nokia brand to mobile phones.

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