LIVE FROM ITU TELECOM WORLD 2011: Executives from across the mobile industry today discussed the challenges in driving mobile broadband growth to underserved markets. Brahima Sanou, director of the Development Bureau at the ITU, noted the complexity of this issue, stating that this is a “multi-stakeholder, multi-dimensional problem. Therefore, it needs to be tackled by multiple stakeholders.”
Tom Phillips, chief government and regulatory affairs officer of the GSMA, said: “the main challenge I see is how do we, governments and industries together, maintain an attractive investment climate for mobile broadband. Mobile broadband will suck billions and billions of dollars in investment in infrastructure, services, handsets and networks and the like. And to be honest, the vast majority of that is going to be from the private sector, it’s not going to be government funded. So today, how can we make sure that that private sector investment keeps coming and keeps getting pumped in to an industry that is vibrant, successful, and is providing huge benefits to citizens and countries alike?”
Following a similar line to Wang Jianzhou, chairman of China Mobile, and Hamadoun Toure, secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union, Phillips also noted the role of taxation in delivering mobile services, arguing that “taxation is probably the largest single component in many people’s cost of ownership of mobile devices.”
According to the GSMA exec, in the most heavily taxed markets, up to 60 percent of the cost of ownership of a mobile device and service is due to government levies. “The question is: what does the government do with that money? If the answer is reinvestment back into the network and services, and that grows the economy, that’s great. If it takes that out of the industry, that’s bad.”
Robert Pepper, VP of global technology policy at Cisco Systems, urged the industry to look at Wi-Fi as a complement to 3G and 4G networks in the delivery of mobile broadband services service. However, he also highlighted spectrum availability as a key issue, calling for a “rapid transition” to enable the rapid deployment of mobile networks in the 700MHz and 800MHz digital dividend spectrum, as well as use of 5GHz frequencies for Wi-Fi networks to enable data offload from mobile infrastructure.
Amaru Chavez Pujol, group CTO of Etisalat, noted the importance of backhaul networks in the provision of mobile broadband networks. “We need to be very serious about IP backhaul. The beauty about broadband air interfaces are that they are very mature, we know they work very well. However, the backhaul for this amount of data is a challenge for operators. The access is not the problem; backhauling is the problem,” he said.
The Etisalat executive also cautioned against the view that more spectrum in low frequency ranges will be the cure-all for providing mobile connectivity to dispersed areas. “You have to realise we are talking about mobile broadband, it means high speed data access. We have to be very, very careful that even though we do need additional spectrum, the additional spectrum will very seldom be used for covering large areas.”
Ernest Ndukwe, chairman of Openmedia Group, noted that efficient allocation and use of spectrum is an important issue. “We’ve had experiences where in some countries you have spectrum being used for television on a low scale – you just have about 200,000 subscribers – when the same spectrum can be used to provide services that will reach several millions of subscribers,” he said.
“So it is about a country deciding what there priorities are. Even if those companies will have to be paid to exit their spectrum, it is more beneficial to the whole country to use that spectrum for broadband services,” Ndukwe continued.
Christopher Mulley, director of business consulting at ZTE, noted that there should be a “free market aspect to this, and it comes down to what the end user values more – whether they value their broadcast services more, or whether they value actually having broadband more. It then comes down to a market dynamic.”
Noting concerns over interference between mobile networks in the digital dividend bands with television networks, he continued: “somebody has to decide who values that spectrum more, and it has to come down to the end user.”
Mullley also highlighted the role that vendors can play in delivering lower-priced services to consumers. “We see our role as developing technologies and equipment that allow the operators to reduce to cost of ownerships of the networks. One way we believe in doing this is to look at the network architecture and how this can be changed to bring down costs,” he said.