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Experts move to bridge digital standards gaps in Africa


Experts move to bridge digital standards gaps in Africa

Experts move to bridge digital standards gaps in Africa
Photo credit: Timothy Kisambira

Different experts from across Africa are pushing for more standards that would see countries benefit fairly from the growth of information and communication technologies (ICTs).

This was one of the issues that transpired at a one-day conference held in Kigali yesterday that tackled bridging the standardisation gap on the African continent and beyond.

Experts who attended the meeting indicated that there was need to engage several players from different countries across the world in setting international standards which would accomodate all new technologies that are being developed.

Lara Srivastava, the head of International Telecomunication Union (ITU’s) ‘Bridging the Standardisation Gap (BSG) Programme’, told The New Times that it is critical to have a platform where different stakeholders take part in decisions that benefit them, highlighting that the standardisation forum was yet another moment to remind countries of the importance of setting standards for technologies.

“International standards increase competition and reduce costs, they enable companies in developing countries to access the global marketplace, but also enable global players to access emerging markets,” she said.

She said that, so far, Africa has 52 written contribution standards, making it one of the ITU regions with a high number of contributions. This means that Africa has in the recent past put in place many standards in regard to ICTs.

“Africa is one of the active regions in terms of creating draft texts. For example, we have received many draft recommendations on roaming and over-the-top (OTT) services, as well as other emerging technologies from Africa,” she noted.

OTT services standards which Srivastava cited are one of the ICT services that many African telecommunication firms have been pushing for. Statistics show that OTT Services like WhatsApp and Facebook messenger have been eating into revenues of telecoms.

Last year, the Mobile Economy report by GSMA had indicated that mobile revenue growth in sub-Saharan Africa was diminishing, attributing it to the growing popularity of OTT services.

Djibrilla Ballo of the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) said that it is such technologies that need to be standardised so that all players benefit equitably. He noted that standardisation also means balancing the needs and desires of all of the players throughout the ecosystem.

Other standards that experts were pushing for include those that relate to the reduction of roaming costs and charges on mobile financial services, and privacy in big data, among others.

“If you are someone who makes less than 2 dollars a day, how can you afford to pay very high transaction costs using mobile financial services? Members are pushing for international standards on costs and charging for mobile money,” Srivastava said.

Patrick Nyirishema, the director general of Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), one of the organisers of the forum, emphasised the importance of international standards, saying African countries have to jointly work together to make their contribution to inform decisions happening at the global stage.

“What we are trying to do is to bridge Africa’s engagement and ability in shaping the global standards. In the past, we had literally all standards being developed in the developed world and Africa would just adopt. But this is increasingly changing, and we want to continue the momentum,” he noted.

Addressing the media on the sidelines of the conference, Jean de Dieu Rurangirwa, the minister for information technology and communications, said that the forum was an ideal platform for players to address the standardisation needs and draft recommendations that align with countries’ priorities.

“This forum is also an opportunity for everyone to take part in creating and adopting standards that would drive the fast changing digital world,” he said.

The forum also discussed economic and policy matters all of which were aimed at propelling Africa into the future. The forum is part of the ITU-T Study Group 3 which ends on Thursday.

The Study Groups of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardisation Sector (ITU-T) draws experts from around the world to develop international standards known as ITU-T Recommendations which act as defining elements in the global infrastructure of information and communication technologies (ICTs).


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