Beyond WRC-23: Paving the way for enhanced connectivity in Africa

By John Omo, Secretary General, African Telecommunications Union

Late last year, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) brought together its Member States from around the world to deliberate on their collective use of radiocommunication resources.

The African Telecommunications Union (ATU) led and coordinated positions for ITU’s Africa Region for the four-week World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23), along with the preceding four-year preparatory cycle.

The conference, which took place in Dubai, UAE, between 20 November and 15 December, culminated in the signing of an updated Radio Regulations treaty applicable worldwide.

Now that the dust has settled, we face the task of aligning WRC-23 decisions with the region’s development objectives and technological ambitions.

Agenda 2063: The digital revolution

Agenda 2063 − the African Union’s strategic framework for socio-economic transformation − emphasizes the need for the continent to engage in the digital revolution. This can be done by encouraging the growth of information and communication technologies (ICTs). To a large extent, it involves applying digital technologies to boost economic growth, governance, and quality of life.

Digital adoption directly correlates with a reduction in the prevalence of informal economies as well as the expansion of opportunities in the formal sector. Knowing this presents a compelling case for embracing digital-led formalization.

Currently almost 83 per cent of employment in Africa is informal, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

How global radio coordination works for Africa

The outcomes of WRC-23 provide an essential opportunity for African countries, alongside others worldwide, to strengthen their ICT/telecommunications infrastructure and regulatory frameworks.

At the regional level, ITU’s conference platform motivated countries to align their approach with African Common Positions (AfCPs) and enabled us to speak with one voice regarding our region’s challenges and needs in radiocommunications, thereby maximizing favourable outcomes.

Key achievements of WRC-23

The latest Radio Regulations updates serve to accommodate new technologies and services, particularly with the allocation of new frequency bands for mobile broadband services and additional frequencies for satellite systems.

These decisions lay the groundwork for increasing access to communication services, improving connectivity, and driving innovation across various sectors of the African economy.

Recovery of satellite resources for Africa

The previous World Radiocommunication Conference, held in 2019, showcased the power of togetherness. One key decision (Resolution 559) facilitated the recovery of satellite resources for 31 African countries, with a combined value of billions of US dollars.

This achievement set a significant precedent and boosted confidence across Africa, with practical implementation coming into focus at WRC-23.

Combating future crises and ensuring digital inclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of reducing digital exclusion to ensure resilience in the face of global crises. WRC-23 addressed the role of digital technologies in combating pandemics and promoting digital equity, particularly in Africa.

Today, Africa is more prepared, and resourced, to combat future crises and create a more inclusive digital future for all its citizens.

WRC-23’s prioritization of allocating frequency bands for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) holds significant promise in Africa’s pursuit of enhanced connectivity. Ongoing advances offer the prospect of improved access to mobile phones, faster Internet speeds, and advanced communication capabilities.

Aeronautical and maritime communications

Africa has long championed coordinated efforts to manage interference incidents in aeronautical and maritime communications. African countries, logically, have endorsed measures to clarify responsibilities in this area, along with strategies to strengthen transportation infrastructure. Additionally, Africa supports the introduction of new technologies to enhance connectivity and safety in the air and at sea.

WRC-23 addressed pressing concerns touching on African skies and maritime routes that serve as vital conduits for transportation, trade, and connectivity. The reinforcement of regulatory frameworks will safeguard AM(R)S – the Aeronautical Mobile (R) Service – and other key services for maritime safety communications. This means Africa can enjoy the uninterrupted operation of essential communication channels for pilots, sailors, and maritime authorities.

Quiet zones for scientific research

Notably, the conference discussions also addressed other concerns tabled by Africa – one of them being the protection of Radio Quiet Zones.

Protecting key zones from radio traffic is vital for scientific research, particularly in astronomy, as it allows for the detection of faint signals from space without interference. These zones also contribute to local economies and educational opportunities in the remote areas where they are located.

Addressing unique developmental challenges

Africa’s engagement at WRC-23 was guided by a commitment to address our region’s unique developmental challenges. International cooperation throughout the preparatory cycle played a crucial role in shaping Africa’s collective voice, with various regional groups contributing to consensus-building and decision-making processes.

The transition to virtual meetings also enabled greater participation by African stakeholders. Reducing logistical barriers ensured that Africa’s interests were adequately represented.

Regional cohesion for a better future

The next milestone – implementation – is now upon us. This critical phase demands concerted efforts from all stakeholders to ensure the decisions made at the conference translate into tangible benefits for Africa.

I am confident we can count on ATU’s membership for continued support and collaboration in the implementation phase. ATU is fully prepared to extend assistance and guidance where needed, aiming to facilitate strong regional cohesion as we progress into the future.

Discover more about WRC-23 outcomes in ITU News Magazine

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