For the first time in its existence, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) hosted its annual flagship event on Afrikan soil. From 10 to 13 September 2018, more than 3,100 participants gathered in Durban, South Africa for the ITU Telecom World 2018 where various telecommunications related debates, networking events, exhibitions and startup awards were held.

Apart from the insights shared at the event and the various deliberations, one of the positives of the ITU Telecom World conference is that it brings together all the telecommunications players under one roof for several days. These include government representatives, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), big corporates and civil society representatives.

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa (Left) on a VIP Tour of the ITU Telecom World 2018 exhibition area with ITU Secretary General, Houlin Zhao. ©ITU/R.Farrell

“This week we have seen some awe-inspiring showcases, featuring the types of cutting-edge innovations that are truly at the forefront of ICT development. It is innovations such as these, plus the shared visions and knowledge of technology experts such as those present this week that have the potential to truly reach and connect the unconnected and help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals," said Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General at the ITU.


The 2018 event was held under the theme of Innovation for smarter digital development. As such, 157 speakers from 47 countries participated in 43 panel discussion sessions which covered topics such as technological developments and impacts in 5G, IoT, Artificial Intelligence (AI), smart cities, digital literacy, supporting tech startup growth, and the challenges and opportunities of the digital age.

“South Africa has been humbled by the honour of hosting this magnificent event and is grateful for the support it has received from the Afrikan countries and the rest of the world. We hosted this event in partnership with the private sector. The conference has provided an opportunity for Afrika's voice to be heard in important global ICT debates and discussions," said Siyabonga Cyprian Cwele, South Africa's Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services.

Cwele added that one of the more important highlights of the conference is that we, as the ICT industry, must ensure that women, the youth and small-, medium- and micro-sized enterprises play a critical role in advances in technology.

Technology startup awards

To this effect, on the last day of the event the ITU hosted an awards ceremony honoring technology startups and SMEs.

The ITU Telecom World Awards 2018  recognized excellence and innovation in ICT solutions with social impact from SMEs, as well from big corporations. Throughout the week of the conference, startups and SMEs who were selected as finalists pitched their ideas and innovations and fielded questions from the judges.

You can find the full list of winners here.  

Apart from the debates and awards, there were several notable announcements that were made at the conference including Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) that were signed, taking advantage of the of the fact that the important players in the telecommunications industry were in one place.  One of the MoUs that were signed was between the Republic of Korea's Frontis and South Africa, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Azerbaijan to provide virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) content, and Republic of Korea's Victony with the Burundi Innovation Hub to provide e-education content.​

Another key announcement was the the launch by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development of the 2018 State of Broadband report.​

Despite all this, the conference was quite a bit to take in with all the forums, discussions, etc. all happening simultaneously. Perhaps, if everyone's calendars can be co-ordinated, in future it should be split into smaller events throughout the year focused on specific topics.

The next stop for the ITU Telecom World conference will be Budapest, Hungary during September 2019.

Cover image credit: ITU Telecom World 2018 Opening Ceremony. ©ITU/Howard Share this via: