The telecom revolution brought about by IP Telephony to be at the top of the international agenda as government and industry converge on Geneva

February 26, 2001

Geneva – The growing trend to make and receive telephone calls using the Internet, and other networks based on Internet Protocol (IP), will be the topic of a major international event – the World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF) on IP Telephony, organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). WTPF 2001 will be held in Geneva from 7 to 9 March 2001, with a one-day information session taking place on 6 March. Both events will be staged at the Geneva International Conference Centre (CICG).

IP Telephony – also known as Voice over IP – has taken a firm hold in markets all over the world. IP Telephony can generally be offered to customers at prices that are very much below those offered over conventional circuit-switched networks, particularly on long-distance and international calls because traffic pricing on IP-based networks is largely distance-independent.

According to industry estimates, around 4 billion minutes of voice and fax were carried internationally over IP-based networks in 20001. While the total volume of traffic is significant, its growth rate is even more so. A large number of operators have already announced that they will eventually migrate all of their global traffic onto IP-based networks. IP traffic is increasing exponentially, at a time when overall growth in international traffic is slowing. Accordingly, one major carrier even announced that it expects to increase its capacity to carry voice traffic over IP-based networks by 1300% over the next five years, at a quarter of the cost of doing so over a conventional circuit-switched network.

While IP Telephony means cheaper calls for consumers, the economics are much more complex for carriers because their existing revenue streams and technologies may be impacted if customers shift to other services or other companies. As IP-based networks offer lower costs and increasingly become the technology of choice when deploying new infrastructure, carriers that rely essentially on conventional circuit-switched networks may soon find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

For developing countries, IP Telephony presents an additional dilemma; while it promises to reduce the price of international telephone calls, it may also reduce the revenues from these calls that currently help funding the extension of the domestic network or meet universal service obligations.

Governments have taken very different approaches to IP Telephony. Some prohibit it, some license it and some do not regulate it at all. Most have not yet adopted a position. The Forum promises to be an exciting event as the issues to be discussed bring to light the potential conflict between existing telecommunication regimes and technological change, and highlight transition strategies in a converging telecommunication environment.

“Clearly, IP Telephony presents opportunities and challenges”, said Yoshio Utsumi, ITU Secretary-General. “Along with lower costs, IP-based networks can facilitate the introduction of innovative technologies and applications and improve the chances for underserved communities to join the information society”, he said, stressing that a number of conditions had however to be in place first if a successful transition to IP-based networks was to be ensured. “Developing a common understanding through shared views of the underlying policy, regulatory and technical issues is the overriding objective of WTPF 2001” Utsumi added.

It is expected that participants at the Forum will discuss and agree upon a series of “opinions” that will address possible policies for IP Telephony, actions to assist in the transition to IP-based networks, and measures to tackle the human resource development challenges raised by new technologies such as IP Telephony.

WTPF 2001 continues a tradition of the ITU in providing a forum where global challenges raised by emerging telecommunication policy and regulatory issues can be tackled by government and industry. Not surprisingly, it attracts a wide variety of participants including senior officials, regulators and policy-makers from around the globe, industry leaders from telecommunication, data and Internet companies, policy and market analysts, as well as journalists and academics.

The three-day Forum will be preceded by an Information Session at which experts from industry and governments will present background information and lead discussion. The objective of the day is to stimulate debate on policy issues raised by IP Telephony, and to promote informed decision-making by companies and governments. The Information Session will look at technical aspects of IP Telephony, economic issues and market dynamics, policy issues and country experiences2.

As part of preparations for the event, the Secretary-General of the ITU has produced a report which will be the sole working document on the agenda. That report, along with a series of case studies and other background material, is available from the ITU website at