What is the state of development and penetration of ICT technologies globally?

HOULIN ZHAO: ITU has its mandate to connect the people, to connect the world. We are pleased that over last decades, that ICT and telecom developed very rapidly in the world, everywhere. But we are also facing challenges. According to ITU statistics, we have over almost 7.2 billion mobile subscriptions. It's almost a 100% of the population. And we have also 3.2 billion online users. So this is a marvelous achievement. But if you look at another side of the story, if you have a 3.2 billion online, you still have 4 billion not online yet. And you look at the 100% of mobile penetrations, you have more than 1 telephone set. Most people have more than 1. So if you divide it by 2, this means that half population has not enjoyed this mobile technology in their lives yet. So there's a big challenges here.

How important is ICT to economic development?

HOULIN ZHAO: Globally, according to ITU statistics, 50 years ago, we are convinced if you have a 10% more mobile phone penetrations, the country's GDP will be increased by 1.3%. It's quite big. Today, since things are already saturated in terms of mobile phone penetrations. So we counted if you have 10% more broadband penetration, your country's GDP will be increased by 1.8%. This is not just a kind of imagination. This is a result of a study by world class economists and with the socio economic studies.

So that is very convincing. But on the other hand, we also noted that ICT as a new technology in our information society today, it's absolutely the enabler for everything. And ICT is not part of problems, maybe small problems somewhere. But ICT is a part of solution everywhere and we just recently approved 17 sustainable developmental goals by United Nations last summer in New York. We believe to that without ICTs support, assistance, contributions, we cannot reach the goals easily. And we firmly believe that the government, political leaders, and even the others, all the social stakeholders, they fully realize this important role ICT can play.

The problem is not whether ICT is important or not. I think the people recognize the importance of ICT, but they may not fully understand ICT as an industry itself still faces challenges. And if we don't give them continuous support, if you do not create the good environment for this ICT development in the future, ICT, like big companies in the world, could be collapsed. That will be disaster for our human society. So, ITU’s message is, we have to continue to support ICT; continue to invest in the ICT. We believe that with proper investment in ICT, the society, the country will get much more feedback return from this investment. So we encourage them to continue.

What role does ICT play in the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

HOULIN ZHAO: ICT is explicitly mentioning 2 out of 17 SDG goals. One goal is for ICT for Education. One goal is talking about ICT to empower women. So these two goals, out of 17 goals, make a clear reference to ICT. We have another 2 goals which talk of general nature of our common concerns. One is for smart infrastructure, including highways, road, even electricity, and water, all this. And ICT is considered as an important infrastructure. That is in connection with the all the others infrastructure issues. And the last one was mentioned in Goal 17 talking about the measurement of implementation of our goals, where they also mentioned that ICT is a very important part. Except for these four, we don't have explicit reference to ICT.

Here you might consider that because people fully understand the ICT potentials, they don't really want to repeat these messages. That could be true. But the danger is if you don't put this highly on the agenda when you develop your national strategy, national plan, according to 17 Goals and you compare your strategy with the goals specified, and you don't find that reference to ICT, you will not put that in your national strategy. You will not put that in national plan. Then, you never know, either it’s fully recognized and people systematically consider this important or people can easily forget this important part, then you don't pay attention to support them. So there are risks here. So we try to invite our global family to pay attention to this so called observation and then to help us.

In what ways are we seeing ICT changing societies around the globe?

HOULIN ZHAO: That is absolutely marvelous because today you enjoy 3G/4G technologies and you cannot live without your smartphones now. It's not only in Hungary, Budapest; in the country side of the African continent, people also heavily rely on that. But there's the problem there. That in some villages the mobile phones is only the property of the man of the family. When he moves out, the others could not enjoy. And also in many villages, they cannot even enjoy this. And the mobile phone and broadband connections to internet could help our villagers to improve their lives very very quickly. I have lot of success stories. You know, I was told by many countries that the poor family in the country side now become rich very quickly, because they use ICT to sell their products, to collect information from other sites. So we have a lot of very good stories, and I think I can find it everywhere. However, the new technologies will provide us an even better future that you can really rely on this new technology to get life much comfortable for you. And also, today everywhere people are talking about a smart city, smarter government, all this smart. Without ICT, nothing can be smart. So we are bringing lot of benefit to normal people's lives and I think that this potential is becoming more and a more evident in not only the cities, but also in the country side, in the remote areas, and the whole planet enjoys this new life with our new ICT technologies.