21 MAY 2003

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Helping the world to communicate

Transport and Communications Minister Censu Galea delivers a World Telecommunications address. Galea highlights major developments in Malta’s communications sector and gives a glimpse of what’s 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 nation’s 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. Malta’s 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.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
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