A Comparison of Mobile Communications Policies and National Broadband Strategies: Issues, Challenges and Lessons
Posted: 30 Mar 2014
Date Written: March 28, 2014
“Every day we are moving closer to having almost as many mobile subscriptions as people on earth…The mobile revolution is m-powering people in developing countries by delivering ICT applications in education, health, government, banking, environment and business. Let us all celebrate this mobile miracle…” Brahima Sanou, Director, ITU Telecommunications Bureau, “The World in 2013: ICT Facts and Figures.”
Ubiquitous wireline and wireless broadband infrastructure deployment is the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century. According to International Telecommunications Union (ITU) estimates for 2013 over 2.7 billion people, or 39% of the world’s population of 7.1 billion were Internet users and 750 million households, or 41% had Internet access. The use of the increasingly intelligent mobile phone has exploded. It has become the most widely used communications device in the world, and the access device of choice in the developing world. The ITU estimates that there were some 6.8 billion mobile service subscriptions by the end of 2013. Mobile penetration rates stand at 96% globally, 128% in developed and 89% in developing countries. ITU estimates indicate that mobile broadband subscriptions have increased from 268 million in 2007 to 2.1 billion in 2013, an average annual growth rate of 40%. There are now more than twice as many mobile broadband subscriptions as fixed ones.
Spectrum is the lifeblood of wireless mobile communications services. As high-speed mobile Internet access becomes more readily available and affordable, the cell phone and other more intelligent mobile devices with greater functionalities (e.g. smartphones, tablet computers, laptops) are widely being used for bandwidth-hungry business applications as well as for personal and social purposes. This means that the demand for additional spectrum bandwidth is likely to increase rapidly and outstrip the supply for the next few years.
Mobile broadband communications requires an integration of wireless and wireline networks. Governments have a key role to play in efficiently allocating and managing the use of the spectrum (e.g. through well designed auctions, re-farming valuable spectrum released by the conversion from analogue to digital TV broadcasting, shared and license-exempt spectrum use regimes) and meeting the demand for additional spectrum bandwidth. Issues and challenges related to the efficient allocation and management of the spectrum will become an important component of any national broadband strategy. Many governments have instituted a range of supply side policies to accelerate broadband deployment, increase availability and reduce costs. However, the most effective design of complementary demand side policies remains uncertain.
This paper, which complements a similar panel, will focus on the impact of the widespread penetration and use of the cell phone and other more intelligent mobile devices in both developing and developed countries. It will examine and compare the role that wireless access and mobile broadband play in various national and regional broadband strategies; and how mobile communications is integrated with the wireline component of such strategies. It will discuss and compare strategies being used in developed countries like the US, Australia and the EU, developing Latin American countries like Mexico and South Asian countries like India, among others. We wish to find out what has worked, what did not, the problems encountered and whether there are lessons to be learned that are of general applicability, as well as for particular countries. An overall lesson seems to be “One size does not fit all”.
This is a topic of continuing interest to the TPRC community, both researchers and policymakers. We wish to explore the possibilities and limitations of learning from other nations’ and regions’ experiences. A dialogue between the policymakers and researchers could help to identify current and future policy issues which will require further research work.
Keywords: Mobile communications, Broadband strategies, Spectrum
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