2018 has been a big year for the industry having surpassed 5 billion unique mobile subscribers – the equivalent of two thirds of the world’s population – and the latest figures by GSMAi, show we’re now on course to reach nearly 6 billion by 2025. Staggering numbers that without the right policy and regulatory environment could not be possible.
Since its inception in 2006, the Ministerial Programme (MP) has advocated on behalf of mobile operators to governments and policymakers on fundamental and at times, sensitive issues. From a gathering of 100 government and industry attendees to a forum of over 1500 in 2018, attracting more than 160 delegations and over 70 Ministers from across the globe (see infographic below).
But first, let’s set the scene.
It was the launch of the first iPhone in 2007 that really set the industry on a new path. The days of BlackBerry, Windows 95 and Ask Jeeves were over. With a greater operating capacity of mobile becoming available, usage grew exponentially through the addictive qualities of Facebook, Google and YouTube.
Mobile as a whole was developing quicker than any other industry. It became a pillar of a modern society and the platform of choice for consuming copious amounts of content. During the global financial crisis, mobile remained strong with stories of people waiting in the dole queue whilst playing on the latest iPhone.
The industry was reaching fever pitch but the networks were struggling to cope. Spectrum demand was growing, as was the need for regulation to be modernised.
Looking through the programmes of yesteryear, our big topics in MP reflected this changing market, but what is most interesting is how the development of the agendas can be categorised as particular periods of the industry.
Looking at the infographic below, the early years of MP focused on the changing and challenging environment, faced by an uncertainty of how communications were changing (anyone remember DECT?).
‘Creating a growth environment’ was key for the industry and the MP agenda saw regulation and spectrum requirements dominate. Vital discussions took place on convergence and new market opportunities that essentially formed the basis of WRC-07 and the allocation of the Digital Dividend to mobile. This was the beginning of the digital transformation.
The switch from analogue to digital followed in 2008/9, allowing new growth models to sprout. Apps were on the rise, 4G began rolling out and mobile started looking at other industries – connected living, health, and finance. Regulatory modernisation and mobile privacy were now being discussed on stage – 6 years before the launch of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – as MP was forming a regulatory framework fit for a digital society.
In 2015, the GSMA defined our industry purpose ‘Connecting everyone and everything to a better future.’ The same year that the Ministerial Programme announced mobile to be the first private industry to commit to the UNs Sustainable Development Goals 2030. We were creating a better future but keeping the internet open, safe and secure was vital. MP focused on its key drivers; innovation, identity, finance, gender, competition, regulation and net neutrality. It was during this period that many governments started to launch their digital agendas.
In 2018, with the launch of European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), we entered a new phase of our industry. Big data has always been King however with the development of technology and improved access and coverage, the use of smart data offered new opportunities and challenges in equal measures. Discussion was moving from the big society piece of ‘creating a better future’ to ask ‘who are we building a better future for?’
In order to think big, we now need to think small – to focus on the individual, not just the big picture. The technological advancements, new regulatory frameworks and smart use of data has led us to a new age, the age of the digital citizen.
The Ministerial Programme is unique in uniting global industry and government leaders in a way that no other event can. The MP agenda brings new discussions to the table – are we at risk of losing consumer trust in the digital ecosystem? How can we ensure 5G doesn’t create a new digital divide? Will jobs of the future require new policies? Has GDPR had its intended effect? Which policies are delivering the greatest social impact? How can big data tackle disease, disasters and humanitarian crises?
With world leaders taking to the stage each year, history has shown the Ministerial Programme to be an industry-defining platform. Only time will show the significance of the debate coming to Barcelona in 2019.