The mobile phone is a great democratic technology: it will play a decisive role in providing universal access to telecommunications. New voice and data connections, made possible by affordable, accessible mobile phones, mean more opportunities for trade and wealth creation.
Central and eastern Europe is a region with rapidly-rising mobile penetration: subscriptions rose 25% in 2004 alone. Wider access to communications there has paralleled strong growth in national income (GDP).

Take Romania, a top growth performer and one of Orange’s largest markets. Since 2000, its annual GDP growth has been above 4% and described as “robust” by the World Bank. The country has undergone a communications boom, with mobile phones the key technology for getting people connected. In 1999, just 115,000 Romanians out of a population of more than 22 million had mobile phones. Today, almost 12 million have them and, since 2004, mobiles have outnumbered fixed lines by a ratio of three to two.

For central and eastern European countries, with their historic and geographic links to other markets, the relationship between mobile penetration and GDP is partly a coincidence. Africa, on the other hand, has no legacy of telecommunications infrastructure. There, mobile phones will play a critical role in connecting people into world markets and spurring growth.

Mobile penetration is rising across the continent, albeit from a low base of around 5% in sub-Saharan Africa. Initiatives such as community phones, which Orange distributes in Cameroon, are providing payphone-style mobile services to communities. The cost of handsets is falling, thanks to the GSM Association’s programme to develop an affordable, $30 phone.

The next step envisages Africans connecting to the internet over mobile networks. During the next 12 to 18 months smartphones will emerge priced at less than $100, half of what they cost today. In a continent where internet penetration is just 3% (compared with 49% in EU countries), cheap smartphones will allow easy internet access for millions of Africans.

Enhanced mobile networks, built on Africa’s underused, low-frequency spectrum, would enable people to enjoy fast mobile broadband. This cost-effective technology can help Africa bridge the digital divide and join the global Web community.
The Regional Radiocommunication Conference of the International Telecommunication Union in May will be a good chance to agree the required harmonized frequency bands – a vital step in making the Web a truly worldwide resource.

Sanjiv Ahuja is chief executive of Orange. He has a degree in electrical engineering from Delhi University and a masters degree in computer science from Columbia University.

The role of communications is as critical to global economic growth in the 21st century as was the role of energy in the previous century.

Ensuring that investment in new technology directly improves the quality of peoples’ lives, while also supporting the success of companies worldwide, will be critical for advancing the next 100 years of innovation.

This goal is within our grasp. Progress has already meant that the barriers between people and technology are being broken down.
Not only are we now better able to speak our natural language to technology, but technology has also advanced enough to understand our needs more effectively.

A simple, everyday example of this is voicemail. We don’t have to chase our messages manually any more. Developments in messaging applications mean that voicemail messages can now automatically find us.

There are also great examples in the healthcare sector. Liverpool City Council in the UK, for instance, is using wireless technology to help its elderly residents to stay independent for longer.
Working with BT, the council has installed wireless sensors in a number of homes, monitoring certain factors including room temperature, movement within the house and the use of appliances. If unusual results are recorded, indicating that the occupant might be in difficulty, local contacts are automatically alerted via phone calls. This is the first step towards shaping the design of future healthcare services.

Yet in a world of ever-increasing choice and complexity, customers will demand more efficient and personalized services.

To be successful companies will have to offer these services faster, with greater flexibility and at better prices than the competition. To this end, IP (Internet Protocol) technology will prove critical. Extending the reach of an IP platform will provide companies with a global innovation platform that allows them to create new services, reduce costs, grow and revitalize their business, faster and with more confidence than ever before.

It will also enable telecoms companies to develop a broader range of services to offer to customers in all market places.

Ultimately, customers will vote with their wallets as to who the winners will be.

Matt Bross is chief technology officer at BT Group. He is responsible for setting the company’s technology strategy and for BT’s 21st Century Network transformation. He previously held senior positions at MasterCard and Williams.

The word “telecoms” is already obsolete. Copper lines – the backbone of traditional telephony – have given way to convergent broadband networks. The future of broadband lies in the “digital home”, for which telcos and cable operators are competing to provide video, voice and data services over a single platform.

Predictions are tough to make, but here are a few.
It’s not a zero sum game. It is short-sighted to speculate on winners and losers in this evolving industry. Cable operators and telcos will swap some customers, but will also invest in new revenue streams that expand the market for everyone. Just look at the data for broadband: 175 million homes have been connected from a standing start, and interactive digital TV is changing how we consume video.

The same will be true for wireless. WiMax (a developing wireless broadband technology) will extend cable’s footprint, while mobile voice services add a so-called quad-play to the bundle of video, voice and data. With 2 billion mobile-phone users worldwide downloading music clips some day, cable will ease the burden on mobile networks by carrying traffic and providing cost-effective wireless solutions for the home.

Healthy competition is key. With so much focus on applications, we tend to take networks for granted. Healthy infrastructure-based competition is critical for sustained investment and innovation. But regulators should take heed. Cable operators have invested more than $100 billion in fibre-rich digital TV and IP infrastructures, and customers are reaping the benefits.

Yet if returns dwindle, so too will future network upgrades. Although resellers can lower price points in the short term, if unfairly protected, they usually squeeze margins for everyone, then shut down or sell out. In contrast, incumbent telcos are typically 10-40 times larger than their cable counterparts. How much protection do they really need?

Beware of the hype. While it is easy to get carried away with extreme predictions – like mobile phones replacing TV sets or free voice calls for everyone – we need to remember the underlying economics of these businesses. Equally, consumers just want things that make their lives simpler and personalize their media but “Googling” your TV set every night could get tedious. Do we want to work that hard? The opportunity has never been better for companies that can package and integrate all these services together over a common network and customer service platform – a one-stop provider for the “digital home”. Sounds a lot like cable.

Mike Fries is president and CEO of Liberty Global, the world’s largest international cable company. He co-founded UPC, Liberty’s European division, and has been in the cable industry for more than 20 years.

The desire to communicate is a basic and natural human need. To predict the future of communication technology we must learn from history. The fax did not kill the post, and email did not kill the fax. Instead, the frequency of communications has increased with each innovation.

Telephony is now becoming an application. There is no longer any need for copper wire or old-fashioned switches. Instead, telephony can run on any high-speed internet connection.

As broadband becomes ubiquitous, all voice communications will shift to the internet. Traditional barriers to communication, such as distance, will become irrelevant.

The most important recent advance is so-called Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Using this technology, companies such as Skype are able to offer basic phone calls and a host of other features, like conference calls, cheaply – if not for free – over the Web.

This means that what used to be assets for telecom companies (telcos) – like a large infrastructure – may become liabilities. To combat this, telcos have to innovate. Carriers that can bridge the gap between the old world of the public switched telephone network (PSTN) and the new world of the Internet Protocol (IP) will have tremendous opportunities in the short term, thanks to their huge customer bases.

There is a huge revenue potential in expanded markets such as broadband sales, with more than 100 million computers connecting to broadband in 2004.

With increasing, high-quality bandwidth for Wi-Fi (short-range wireless broadband technology) and WiMax (which should allow wireless use over greater distances than Wi-Fi), free calls over the internet will become truly untethered from fixed networks. Affordable broadband access and decreasing costs of personal computing devices are already leading to an exponential growth of mobile computing and internet-based communications.

The growth of Wi-Fi hotspots and the development of WiMax will give consumers even more mobility and advanced features via handheld devices like cellphones.

In future, we expect that people will use one primary communications device that lets them appear across all networks and devices. Telephone numbers will become a thing of the past.

Keeping in touch will be so much easier when all you have to remember are your friends’ names.

Niklas Zennström is co-founder and chief executive of Skype, which has been bought by eBay. Previously, he co-founded KaZaA, which supplied software to allow downloading and sharing of files over the internet. He is a Young Global Leader (WEF), 2005.