The explosion in mobile communications in the developing world has created social and economic changes that have exceeded all expectations and predictions — even those made as recently as five years ago. There are still countries lagging behind, but now is the time to move on to the next stage — and that means broadband. Already the developed world is showing an enormous appetite for mobile broadband, so the demand is most certainly there.
The rapid development of low cost Smartphone, projected to approach $50 soon, and tablets, now already under $200, means that many people in the world who are not PC literate or have the ability to buy a PC — will be able to experience the broadband Internet for the first time. Thus in the same way that the majority of people in the world made their first phone calls with a wireless phone; the majority of people in the world will have the first rich media Internet experience via wireless communications.
Broadband is the facilitator for a range of services that are of great value to governments, businesses and people in rural and regional areas as well as in the cities. However a holistic government policy is needed to achieve the associated social and economic benefits — a policy that takes into account the ICT infrastructure requirements of the various sectors, the most appropriate use of mobile spectrum for both mobile broadband and the fixed-wireless network, and how this fits into the overall national broadband plan — particularly in relation to the development of fibre optic networks for the underlying core.
Once positive and comprehensive trans-sector (national purpose) policies and the costly underlying infrastructure are in place, the business model for private investment is fairly straightforward. The demand for broadband is clear. People are prepared to pay for it if the price is affordable. Broadband facilitates social and economic developments in healthcare, education, media, e-commerce, m-banking, public safety communications. etc. Businesses and governments will invest in e-services if the infrastructure is in place — but utilities-based infrastructure may be required in order for the underlying infrastructure to be put in place.
For that reason comprehensive government policies are required to build on the economic development and innovation that has been generated by the mobile explosion — policies that will place mobile broadband development within the context of the emerging digital economy. Based on a trans-sector vision, rather than on silo-based policies, spectrum regulations can be developed that will allow society to reap the social and economic benefits of these new technologies. Policy makers should provide for abundant spectrum allocations of the right prime spectrum in order to create the abundant broadband wireless capacity needed to meet the promise of the mobile explosion.
We know that each new generation of mobile innovations doubles the capacity needed for these new applications and services. Moreover these innovations are coming at a much faster rate than innovations in network technology so demand is outstripping supply. In fact in developed markets, demand for mobile broadband is growing at 100% per year or greater while cost effective supply technology is continues to grow at only 40% per year. Spectrum allocation and management are therefore critical, and unless this broader picture is taken into account countries will not be able to develop the right policies and regulations to take advantage of these opportunities.
What has also become clear is that, led by Apple, these new technologies have become intuitive to users. No training is needed and people do not have to be computer-literate to participate in these new developments.
Another important element is affordability. We have seen that mobile operators in developing economies are able to offer voice and low speed data service at very competitive prices. Today facilities are provided to make it possible for almost every person on earth to use mobile. Cheap and even free SIM cards are available; communities offer free or low-cost communal service; money transfers allow people to use mobile services paid for by family, friends, social institutions, and so on.
The rapid developments of rich media wireless applications have caught governments and regulations off-guard. It often takes 3-5 years to develop new policies, while new technologies are now developed every couple of years, and new applications and services are often developed within days.
So, unless governments start developing forward-looking policies they will forever be chasing their own tails.
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