IDATE 95 CONFERENCE: 17TH NOVEMBER 1995,
M ONTPELLIER, FRANCE
LESSONS FROM GENEVA
DR. PEKKA TARJANNE
SECRETARY GENERAL, INTERNATIONAL TELECOMMUNICATION UNION
This conference has been convened with the title “Lessons from Geneva”. However, as Secretary
General of the ITU, I do not really feel that it is my place to judge the success or otherwise of
TELECOM 95 – this is a job for others to do.
Nonetheless, as organizers, we are more than happy with this year’s results. Several indicators –
such as the big increase in the number of exhibitors, the number of visitors and the number of
journalists who covered the show – tell us that we achieved our principal aims.
And the event increasingly appeals to a broader audience. The growth this year in the coverage by
the mainstream media and the greater participation of TV and radio stations has shown us that
TELECOM is no longer just a trade show.
But naturally, we had our problems, too. There was still a shortage of accommodation, and there
were several abuses of pricing of taxis and restaurants. And the halls were overheating at the
beginning of the show. But all of this gives us something to work towards for TELECOM 99.
Many people – myself included – said before TELECOM that the exhibition is a place where people
meet and make deals and forge alliances. But at the show itself, and in the weeks since, we do not
have too much concrete evidence of this. CEOs and ministers and VIPs came to TELECOM 95 and
talked. We must now wait, while the seeds sown in their discussions mature and bear fruit.
But before looking forwards to what we can learn from TELECOM 95, let me share with you a few of
my own impressions.
TELECOM 95 was much bigger than any of the earlier exhibitions. There was an extra 16,000
square metres of exhibition space, and over 150 extra exhibitors to fill it, bringing the totals to
99,000 square metres, and over one thousand exhibitors.
The theme of this year’s exhibition was “Connect!”. This reflected the two principal concepts
running through the event:
the continuing convergence of the telecommunications, computing and entertainment industries,
being able to provide voice, data and images in any combination, to anyone, anywhere, at any
time – the true spirit of global communications.
Convergence is particularly exciting. Because in spite of all the talk and speculation, none of us
knows today what will happen even five years from now. There are some interesting parallels
between today’s convergence and that of the film and radio industries in the nineteen-forties and
fifties, which led to the creation of the major television networks and the massive subsequent
popularity of television as a medium. Nobody predicted this – and it may well be that none of
today’s prophets have come anywhere close to predicting tomorrow’s reality.
The development of sophisticated technologies such as high definition television and
video-on-demand means that the entertainment and broadcasting industry is using more and more
of the technology that was once the exclusive province of telecommunications engineers. And the
rapid growth of computer networks means that traditional IT providers now need
telecommunications technologies. Likewise, the major telecommunications carriers are upgrading
their networks with highly sophisticated, intelligent switching equipment, designed by software
All of this results in increased interactivity, in video applications such as videophones and
videoconferencing, and in using networks to carry multiple types of data down the same lines.
And it was a pleasure to see a number of names new to TELECOM from the IT world. Intel, Lotus,
Oracle, and Microsoft, to name but a few, were in Geneva for the first time at TELECOM 95.
Global Communications were also highly visible at the show. All over the exhibition there was
tangible proof of the potential for people worldwide to connect with one another. Exhibitors showed
how users can access the information they need, the services they require, and, perhaps most
importantly, other users – wherever they are located. This was clearly linked with the progress
made in satellite technology, and with the plans by several companies to launch a series of Low
Earth Orbit satellites (LEOs) over the next few years. Handheld, truly portable, satellite telephones
are no longer so far away as they seemed only recently. Global mobility will soon be a reality.
Also highly prominent at TELECOM 95 were many of the results of the explosion of the Internet and
the opportunities these represent. The Internet Days, held on the weekend of the 7th and 8th of
October, were a huge success, with over one and a half thousand people coming to hear the likes
of Vint Cerf, “father of the Internet”, and James Clark, CEO of Netscape Corporation, discuss not
just the wonders that the Internet might deliver, but also the problems and difficulties it will
inevitably bring with it.
It is interesting to note that four years ago, when we held TELECOM 91, the World Wide Web hardly
existed. Who knows what we will all be using in four years’ time, at TELECOM 99?
The broadband technologies and applications that will eventually make the Global Information
Infrastructure a reality were also widely on show. And Don Maclean, Head of the ITU’s Strategic
Planning Unit, will be talking at the end of the day about the importance of the GII and Developing
And finally, it was reassuring to see this year – perhaps for the first time at TELECOM – a greatly
increased focus on the developing world. This happened not just via a number of ITU initiatives –
such as the Programme for Development, which brought nearly 150 chief engineers and human
resources experts, from over 70 Least Developed and Low Income Countries, to Geneva – but
also via exhibitors' own increased awareness of the emerging markets the developing world
represents. At TELECOM 95 developing countries were better represented as exhibitors and as
participants, and many new partnerships were created.
Which brings me to my favourite stand at TELECOM 95, the “Smart House”.
The “Smart House” – also known as the “1 in 10” stand, because 500 million of the world’s five
billion inhabitants suffer from some disability – was built to show how telecommunications can
improve the lives of the disabled or the elderly. The “1 in 10” stand demonstrated everything from
the newest voice recognition systems to a whole range of ingenious applications covering security,
videoconferencing, and low-tech solutions to both simple and complex problems. It showed real
applications available today, at a reasonable cost, for everyday users.
Providing specific applications and services to a potential audience of 500 million people is more
than just a philanthropic act; it is a step forward in the world of telecommunications that will be
beneficial to us all. Applications such as the voice driven fax machine or the hands-free telephone
may be created for a specific market, but will inevitably filter through into the wider community.
TELECOM 95 was about evolution. Evolution in equipment and networks. Evolution in technology.
Evolution in applications. And evolution in the way people think and see the world. So when I was
asked, as I always am: “What is new at TELECOM?” – I was able to say: “Almost everything.”
So what are the lessons we can learn from TELECOM 95?
Well, it is obvious that mobility, in all its senses, will continue to be of increasing importance. And
it is clear too that multimedia – perhaps the theme of TELECOM 91 but the reality of TELECOM 95 –
will be increasingly present in our lives.
But I do not believe that there is a single, or a simple, revolution happening. I do not believe that
the computer will replace the telephone or the television, or that the television will replace the
telephone or the computer. There is room for diversity – and TELECOM 95 was, as always, as much
about diversification as it was about convergence.
In our future workplaces, and in our homes, we will use both very specific terminals for some tasks,
and complex, multimedia terminals for others.
I believe also that the very nature of broadcasting is changing. In the information society,
broadcasting must and will become a two-way medium; a medium for communication. There are
still more television sets on the planet than telephones. Once televisions can be used inter actively,
and can take advantage of the possibilities offered by digitization, the potential for communication
is enormous. Our children will see interactive communications as normal. And the days of the
couch potato may be numbered.
And finally, I am frequently asked about globalization. Popular prophets over the last two or three
decades have insisted that there will be ever fewer global operators, suppliers and manufacturers,
and that competition will be progressively reduced or stifled. But TELECOM 95 showed a multitude
of old and new, and big and small companies, and global and local operators.
Globalization has not led to – and will not lead to – an unhealthy situation. There will always be
room for young, innovative companies to compete with larger, more traditional – and perhaps less
responsive – ones.
We can rely on the constancy of change for this to happen.
And there is always room for competition.