The Congress is the mobile industry's most prestigious annual event that attracts over 67,000 participants from 205 countries of which Tonga is a first time attendee.
In his capacity as Minister for Information and Communications, the Prime Minister has been invited by the GSMA (Global Service Mobile Associations) to participate at the Ministerial Programme of the Congress, which is an environment designed for Leaders of Government to participate in regulatory and industry debate, and share real experiences about the phenomenal impact of mobile at a global level.
The Prime Minister reflects on the opportunity provided by such a programme to sought world-wide experience on how World leaders, regulators and telecommunications authorities can fully engaged the potentials and benefits offered by a dynamic global mobile systems to help address each countries' MDGs and national policies.
As Tonga is expecting the biggest undertaking in ICT development this year, with the launch of its cable submarine project in June, the Prime Minister drew examples from the latest success led by its telecommunications carriers, Tonga Communications Corporations and Digicel (Tonga) Ltd which paved way for the arrival of its new submarine fibre optic cable.
At the Ministerial Programme, the Prime Minister led Tonga's delegation which included the CEO of Digicel (Tonga), Mr. Stephen Bannon, CEO for the Ministry of Information and Communications, Mr. Paula Pouvalu Ma'u and Digicel (Tonga) Ltd's Chief Engineering Officer, Mr. Justin Kaitapu. Accompanying the delegation, was Tonga High Commission's First Secretary, Mr. Siale Vuki Bain-Vete, Lady Robyn Tu'ivakano and the Acting Chief Secretary and Secretary to Cabinet, Mr. 'Aholotu Palu.
Transcript of the Prime Minister's Keynote speech is as follows:
Ministers from the Pacific
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a great honour to be here today in Barcelona for the Ministerial Programme of the GSMA World Congress for 2013. The principles and the initiatives adopted at previous conferences laid a solid foundation for building a truly global, inclusive and development-oriented GSM society, and in support of the promotion of the Millennium Development Goals and national policies in our own countries.
As we are all aware, the successful rolling out of GSM-based services world-wide requires unremitting multi-stakeholder participation, cooperation and partnership. As an essential tool which should be accessible to all, mobile broadband has enormous power to change economic structures and greatly contribute to economic prosperity and a better quality of life, through providing greater choice and supporting social, welfare and cultural activities. Mobile broadband is equally an important tool to assist in meeting the global challenges facing us today in terms of terrorism, security, climate change, energy and trade.
Tonga has adopted the same set of principles driven by an understanding that expanded connectivity with innovation will foster better communications between our citizens, connect the unconnected, serve the under-served, stimulate domestic growth and will provide the scope for greater participation in the global information economy. It is guided by the national objective to "improve sector performance to ensure domestic and global connectivity throughout Tonga, which includes improving quality of life, geographic coverage, service affordability and access to new service applications."
By implementing these bold policy initiatives, Tonga now takes the lead among its Pacific neighbours in embracing the growth of its telecommunications sector ever since the turn of the new millennium. In 2002, the liberalization of the market and introduction of GSM mobile service by Tonfon, a local company, provided vigorous competition with the incumbent carrier, the Tonga Communications Corporations (TCC). Within a year of introducing competition, tariff for almost all telecom services have dropped significantly by more than 200 percent. Teledensity and the number of mobile subscribers and Internet users have tripled. Competition intensified five years later when Digicel (Tonga) Ltd purchased Tonfon in 2007, an established global and multinational mobile carrier.
To date, penetration is close to 70 per cent compared to 8 per cent before the telecom sector reform. Mobile tariff at most times costs 10 US cents per minute, which means it is cheaper for us to call overseas than calling home from abroad. The people are enjoying the benefit.
Despite this success, however, there are also challenges in keeping up with technology, as well as the abuse and misuse of such system. And the Government is addressing these issues.
In June this year Tonga will be connected to the submarine cable system for the first time after 36 years relying solely on the costly satellite connections. The cable system will bring competitive Internet pricing which will promote rolling out of Internet-based services including mobile broadband, and providing more investment opportunities and market entry. There are also legislative and regulatory measures that are being designed to enable and to facilitate a strong, innovative and secure ICT sector.
For this matter, I share with you a most recent innovative GSM service in Tonga, which is the newest product in our Mobile Money portfolio called Beep & Go. It is a Digicel Tonga NFC (near-field communication) payment solution.
Beep & Go was successfully launched in May 2012, a world-first mobile payment solution that links a mobile money wallet to a Point-of-Sale (POS) terminal using cutting-edge NFC technology. What makes this solution unique is that it is open to all customers of Digicel, even those without bank accounts or credit cards. It is also available for use on any handset. This is the first time NFC payments have been linked to a mobile money service, thereby making it the world's first mass-market, fully inclusive NFC mobile payment solution.
This most exciting development has boosted the retail sector in Tonga by offering a fast, easy and safe payment method across the Kingdom. This inclusive service has placed Tonga well ahead of the most advanced economies in the world, where services are aimed only at the section of the market that are enabled with smart phones and credit cards. This is of great significance in Tonga where a large percent of the population don't hold bank accounts, credit card penetration is low and smart phones are considered a luxury.
Users in Tonga benefit from international products as well. It offers an online international money transfer service from New Zealand and Australia to mobile money wallets in the Pacific Islands. In April 2012, Digicel Tonga launched biometric fingerprint identification service at a wide-reaching agent network in New Zealand. The international money transfer service gives Tongan living in New Zealand and Australia an easy, hassle free way to send money back home. Users can even directly pay for the utility bills and school fees of their families in Tonga, by simply logging on to the Digicel mobile money website or visiting an agent.
Digicel Tonga's Mobile Money service was recognised at the Connected World Forum awards held in Dubai last November, where Beep & Go was recognized as the prestigious winner of the Best NFC Deployment Category in 2012. This esteemed award saw Beep & Go compete against other major international competitors like O2, Garanti Payment Systems, Turkcell and MobiCash Africa, and successfully take home the coveted award.
This service is also having a positive effect on commerce and to the retail experience in Tonga's Central Business District, which has become the first mobile payments hub in the Pacific.
As you can see, GSM has offered a historic and an unprecedented opportunity not only to bridging digital divide, but also to place its potential at the service of humanity to make our world a better place.
Before closing, please allow me on behalf of my delegation and the Government of the Kingdom of Tonga, to convey our most sincere and heartfelt gratitude to the President of GSMA and his staff, and to all those who have helped for the logistical planning and arrangements of this Congress; and the Government and the people of this most beautiful country of Spain, and in particular Barcelona for being an excellent host for this Ministerial Programme of the GSMA World Congress, and for your kind hospitality that have been duly accorded to us since our arrival and during our stay.
Issued by the: Ministry of Information and Communications, Nuku'alofa, 2013.