Helping the world to communicate
Transport and Communications Minister Censu Galea delivers
a World Telecommunications address. Galea highlights major developments
in Maltas communications sector and gives a glimpse of whats
in store for the future.
This year's World Telecommunications Day theme is "Helping
all of the world's people to communicate".
Thanks to the implementation of a well thought out comprehensive Government
telecommunications policy, Malta and Gozo are already benefiting from
a highly competitive communications sector. The measures of reform and
upgrading that have been introduced by the Ministry for Transport and
Communications is allowing Malta to play a more direct role in the creation
of a Euro-Mediterranean telecommunications area.
Telecommunications is an excellent illustration of the network effect
whereby a service becomes more valuable as more people use it, which
is in turn encouraging an ever-increasing number of adopters. This principle
of incremental propagation is amply demonstrated in Malta as subscriptions
to all forms of communications services continue to rise. As the various
services are used more universally, the degree of dependence on their
availability rises concurrently. A typical example of this is the universal
access the Maltese population has to the Internet from their homes,
offices, schools and now even their local council offices. This new
concept is a revolutionary new way of interacting and working with others.
Distance is no longer an issue and geographic limits cease to exist.
The facility for remote access to corporate networks enhances mobility
and improves business efficiency.
Electronic communications are a critical underpinning of a nations
economic and social development a prime vehicle for the transmission
of knowledge, information, and business transactions. The vast progress
achieved to date, in technologies, capabilities, and participation levels
has been accelerated by the ongoing liberalisation of the market. Consumers
now have access to choice and as a result are increasingly benefiting
from lower tariffs, which are affordable to everybody. There is a wider
variety of products and services as well as better quality of service.
Waiting lists for communications services are now a thing of the past.
Practically all households are connected to the telephone network and
access to Cable TV is widely available. Nevertheless, potential new
entrants to the sector are continually registering their interest in
commencing new ventures that will add to the existing basket of electronic
communications services. Clearly, these companies are convinced that
there is a sustainable business case for their investment.
Two thirds of the population now has a mobile phone, while the cost
of service provision has been just about halved. The mobile telephony
segment is now well developed with a 75% (This means that 74.5% of households
have a mobile phone according to the ICT Usage in households 2002 Survey)
penetration rate. Mobile subscriptions as at end December 2002 stood
at 277,000 (this according to Malta Communications Authority data).
Mobile phones now outnumber fixed lines for the first time in history
and more traffic is flowing through mobile networks every day. Mobility
is evidently attractive and new data services making use of wireless
technology are being brought on stream including the fledgling m-government
services launched a few weeks ago. Such services bridge the digital
divide and bring government closer to the people.
The Internet has revolutionised the telecommunications sector, providing
a vast number of opportunities and services both to those employed in
this sector as well as to those who use it. Internet subscriptions have
been encouraging with Internet access in households now calculated to
be approximately 31 per cent (although this might seem a low percentage
it is still amongst the highest of the accession countries Information
and Communication Technology Usage in Households 2002 Survey). The next
step will be improving access to the Internet by making broadband more
accessible and cost effective. Broadband technologies provide a fast,
always-on connection to the Internet and deliver converged services
for voice, video and data. Maltas current broadband penetration
at 44 broadband lines per 1000 inhabitants is above the European norm.
Voice over Internet Protocol VoIP - is another service currently
being offered. It provides the ability to send voice traffic and faxes
over IP-based data networks. VoIP is delivering major benefits to service
providers, business and consumers. Some companies have already started
offering this service and others are poised to follow. VoIP makes possible
international communications at a fraction of traditional charges.
WLANs (Wireless Local Area Network) promise ever more value in the office,
public places, and the home. This is a means of interconnecting computers
at relatively high speed within a relatively small geographic area.
WLANs can provide a fast and friendly communications and users can increasingly
take advantage of WLANs at public access locations. Known as "hot
spots," at coffee shops, conference facilities, hotels and even
airline terminals, WLANs help increase productivity because the ability
to work anywhere means people can get more work done, and IT resources
can be used more effectively.
Continuous reforms in the telecommunications sector are ensuring that
Malta positions itself on a level playing field with its European and
global counterparts in the information age. As an EU member, a state
of the art telecommunications system will allow Malta to participate
more actively in efforts to strengthen a dialogue of cultures and civilisations
in the Euro-Mediterranean region. If the perception gap that exists
between the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean is to
be superseded it is essential that all countries in the region dedicate
more of their resources to strengthening people to people communication.
Malta has already started to map out such an agenda by participating
actively in such initiatives as the Euro-Mediterranean Information Society
(EUMEDIS). Further implementation of such regional telecommunications
policies that seek to eliminate communication barriers will remain a
top priority in future.