ITU's Touré discusses 4G spectrum, wireless broadband and the new FCC

With Dr. Hamadoun Touré, secretary general of the ITU

The International Telecommunications Union plays a key role in coordinating global spectrum usage and promoting international cooperation among the world's telecom infrastructure vendors. FierceWireless associate editor Phil Goldstein sat down with Dr. Hamadoun Touré, the secretary general of the ITU, while he was in Washington, D.C., for the Satellite 2009 Conference and Exhibition, to talk about spectrum, wireless broadband policies and President Obama's choice to lead the FCC.   

FierceWireless: What is the ITU doing to make spectrum available worldwide for 4G services like WiMAX or LTE?    

Touré: Those are all things that come into the next-generation networks that we're putting in place [and] that ITU is very associated with. As new spectrum is in demand, old spectrum is going to be more efficiently used, and this is going to be one of the areas where we work very closely with members. Basically, of course, there will be a tremendous [and] substantial amount of spectrum that will be made available by broadcasters when there is a changeover [to digital broadcasting], and therefore how that spectrum is going to be reallocated in every country is a matter of national policy. But of course they depend on some of the general guidelines given by ITU in terms of services so that they don't interfere with one another.

FierceWireless: Do you think that the United States has, through last year's FCC auction of the 700 MHz block, done enough to advance the adoption of next-generation networks?   

Touré: It's national policy, so we usually don't comment on how the national policy is applied in the country. But the truth is, one has to have an approach in how you are going to use the spectrum. Various countries have different approaches. Some do it through auctions. Some do it just by distributing spectrum among the different carriers or services. Some do it by immediate allocation, which is not necessarily the best way to do it. But each of those has their strengths and weaknesses. Auctions mean that you are selling to the highest bidder, you are selling to those who can afford it, and therefore it's not necessarily services that are for everybody. So it has its strengths and weaknesses.

I know that in the U.S. there has been a lot of controversy in that, and a lot of court cases that are pending with this. What ITU does is to advise countries in terms of potential interference issues, if any, and also we look at the experiences and share them with other countries. If the experience in the U.S. works well, we will tell other countries, and maybe some of them will do the same thing. If not, I hope they will not make the same mistakes. But the important thing is that we avoid countries having to reinvent the wheel.

FierceWireless: What do you think are the main challenges in expanding broadband service in the United States, or in any country?

Touré: First of all, we were very pleased with that policy of President Obama, coming first and putting broadband [expansion] as one of the key objectives for his administration. Here we've seen a president who won his presidency by using new technologies. It's the best use of new technology and information and communication technology (ICT) ever for a presidential campaign. We see the potential for this industry, [which] does not need any government bailout. The ICT sector will fly by itself. All it needs is good government policy to fly. We need to make sure that the policies that are put in place by the policy makers are business-friendly, so that this industry continues to innovate, continues to create jobs, as it has been doing for the past five years. ...

Having put emphasis on broadband, including for rural areas, President Obama is putting an emphasis on infrastructure building, which is another key area that will create jobs in this industry. So I'm very pleased with those new steps that are being taken that will help actually reactivate the job market, not only in the U.S. but also in the world. In the U.S., telephone penetration and Internet and broadband penetration are fairly high. ... The U.S has a fairly developed network, but there is still room for growth in terms of infrastructure, which is creating jobs. We believe that the key messages in this industry are for one, infrastructure buildup; two, innovation; and three, investment, of course. When you put the right regulatory framework [in place], the investment will come in this industry. And therefore, the ICT sector is positioned to be the one that will take the world out of this financial crisis. ...Continued

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