Every year since 1969, the world celebrates World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, which marks the founding of ITU on 17 May 1865 when the first International Telegraph Convention was signed in Paris.
This year, the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day was observed under a new theme to raise awareness about the importance of communication and its contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
World Telecommunication and Information Society Day also focuses on how information travels across the world. Therefore, it is dedicated to the evolution of communication, possibilities of using internet and other information to generate possibilities and bring them to societies and economies to bridge the digital divide.
Telecommunications company Airtel Uganda joined the rest of the world in celebrating the day by hosting stakeholders to an online dialogue where Mr. Rajesh Agrawal, the Chief Technology Officer and Mr. James Museba, the Chief IT Officerdiscussed a few ideas.
What does the theme signify to a company like Airtel which is a telecommunications service provider?
This year’s theme is ‘Connect 2030: ICTs for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’. The SDGs realize the role technology has in order to eradicate poverty and reorient current unsustainable development trajectories over the period 2015 to 2030.
This theme is also in line with Uganda’s Vision 2040 in which the Government of Uganda aims to “leverage ICTs to leapfrog economic transformation bottlenecks.
To a telecommunications company, this theme provides a basis and justification for our investment in technology. Airtel Uganda has invested over US$800 million in our network the infrastructure of our network to ensure reliability at affordable rates. Because of this investment, we have registered significant milestones in a short period of time. These include 100% broadband, 100% 4G coverage, highest number of network masts and many others.
Evaluate the role/significance of telecoms to the world and Uganda in Particular.
The world is rapidly moving toward an economic system based on the continuous and ubiquitous availability of information. Recent advances in telecommunications technology have been an important vehicle in permitting information exchange and have sped up development both here in Uganda and in the world in general.
Aside from the conventional communication, telecoms have created a platform for e-commerce that cuts across the socio-economic divide. With such a platform, we have experienced an increase in trade, employment, entrepreneurship, savings and overall financial freedom.
Ugandans and people world over now have access to, and skills to use, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and are therefore able to participate in and benefit from today’s growing knowledge and information society. This is known as digital inclusion or bridging the digital divide. Without telecommunications platforms, this would be close to impossible. The need for digital inclusion has never been more dire than today when the world is experiencing a shut down. Global citizens have no option but to depend on the platforms provided by their telecommunications providers to access the much needed education materials and health information.
What is the significance of the day especially in the current crisis.
Our sector, telecommunications, finds itself in focus as a major contributor to both the current situation and the future after the pandemic. Now more than ever, we find ourselves under unprecedented pressure to deliver critical infrastructure and services as our contribution to what is being called ‘the new normal’.
Digital has already taken centerstage in creating solutions for the pandemic. For example, on 2 April, 30 of the world’s leading digital technology experts gathered in a virtual roundtable to help advance WHO’s collaborative response to COVID-19. Not long after, the World Bank hosted a virtual high-level dialogue with Finance and ICT ministers, ICT regulators, CEOs of telecom and technology companies from around the world to discuss an accelerated action plan to better leverage digital technologies and infrastructure in support of citizens, governments and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. In both these engagements, and many more that have happened during this pandemic, participants are in agreement that now is the time to ensure networks are well-equipped to handle an exponential increase in digital traffic, help countries future-proof their digital capabilities and infrastructure for subsequent crises, and ensure access to digital services for the most vulnerable populations.
What are some of the solutions that our industry can and should be offering?
Medical services: We should be creating platforms for the development and adoption of more online medical services which include consultation and diagnosis as a front-line measure before patients flock hospitals and medical centers worried about their health. This would ofcourse be in consultation with the Ministry of Health and other quality assurance entities.
Online education: Over the past month, Airtel has announced zero rating of education sites to enable access for the students as well as a partnership with Avaya to offer educational institutions in Uganda full-feature access to its flagship collaboration app, Avaya Spaces, on a complimentary basis, through our network. Clearly online education is an area we have already made strides in.
Online working: With public transport still unacceptable, we have seen a massive increase in telecommuters (working from a location other than the office). This means we have to prepare for and provide unlimited access to video conferencing software and online collaboration tools.
Non-contact services and E-Commerce: I have been greatly impressed by the number of companies that have leveraged on the telecommunications networks to create digital extension and non-contact services such as delivery and noncash payments. Our role here is to continue to nurture and host these innovations on our platforms on a more permanent basis to maintain the convenience and safety beyond the pandemic.
In commemoration of World Telecommunications Day, please tell us about Airtel Uganda’s tangible contribution to the industry in Uganda.
Our contribution has been in many different ways. We have provided employment both directly and indirectly through our staff, agents and dealers. We have eased daily tasks of our subscribers by partnering with different service providers to offer their services at the click of a button. Services such as banking, food ordering, school fees and bills payments and many others are all available through Airtel Money.
In commemoration of World Telecommunications Day, let me also talk about our state of Art technology Telecom Network which covers urban, rural and even temporary settlements for refugees. We recently reaffirmed our network leadership position in Uganda with the announcement of 2,000 network masts across the country. These new masts present thousands of opportunities to Ugandans. We are delivering different opportunities in the fields of entertainment, entrepreneurship, tourism, manufacturing and education and for this, we are proud.
Besides the masts, we have laid over 6,000 kilometers of fiber across Uganda to enable access to the internet in even the most remote areas. We have also ensured connectivity to local internet exchange, connectivity with world class international gateways, International submarine cables and Enterprise solutions to meet the need of every sector.
Happy World Telecommunications Day