LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE ASIA EXPO 2013: Executives from the ITU, Indosat, Telenor and Ruckus Wireless discussed the huge potential of mobile broadband in developing markets while noting several challenges.
Houlin Zhao, deputy secretary general of the ITU, said in a keynote session in Shanghai that with two thirds of the world’s population still not able to access the internet, mobile broadband has an important role to play.
“Mobile broadband is clearly going to be a vital part of the solution, and we must continue to mobilise to ensure that all of the world’s people have affordable access to the internet,” he said.
Zhao added that the ITU is a firm believer in the social and economic benefits of improved connectivity for all members of the population.
“To achieve this, however, it is clear there will need to be a massive increase in the rollout of broadband infrastructure on a global scale. In particular, the mobile broadband ecosystem,” he said.
Alexander Rusli, CEO of Indonesian operator Indosat, said there is significant demand for mobile broadband in Indonesia due to the country’s young demographic, tech-savvy middle class and a population that is deeply engaged in social media.
The lack of mobile spectrum in Indonesia is an obstacle though, meaning the use of Wi-Fi is of interest to Indosat.
“Even though we’re utilising spectrum to the max, we know that with the rate of increase we will not be able to support the hunger of people to use data. For us the challenge now is making the Wi-Fi and the cellular network become one,” Rusli said.
Selina Lo, CEO of small cell provider Ruckus Wireless, noted that Wi-Fi is becoming commonplace in both developed and developing markets — though for different reasons.
“In developed markets, Wi-Fi tends to be used to augment capacity for data access for mobile broadband, whereas in developing markets we see Wi-Fi being used to fill out the gaps in coverage,” she said.
Having gained experience by operating in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Thailand, Jon Fredrik Baksaas, president and CEO of Telenor, said that markets where there has previously been very low mobile penetration — such as Myanmar — might not always benefit from the latest version of mobile broadband.
“If you launch 4G in a country that has not had connectivity before, it doesn’t work,” Baksaas said.
However, the ITU’s Houlin Zhao left the audience in no doubt about the value of mobile broadband: “We must seize the opportunities to ensure that operators have what they need to deliver mobile broadband, and to deliver on our responsibilities to connect everyone,” he concluded.