PARTNER FEATURE: Digitalisation is transforming the world as we know it. Industries and enterprises across the globe are embarking on a journey to make operations smarter, simpler and more efficient through technology investment, as the digital economy becomes key to unlocking present and future opportunities.

However, a disparity remains. While a new wave of digitalisation continues to sweep the globe and the mobile internet becomes a fundamental utility in people’s lives – as part of a growing need to be constantly connected – 3 billion of the world’s population still remain without internet access.

In emerging markets, predominately, 800 million households are without broadband services, and this is even more surprising given that nearly 7 out of 10 have households have access to a mobile phone in the world’s poorest 20 per cent of countries.

Putting the social economic aspect of this situation aside, Huawei notes that addressing this connectivity challenge also presents a major opportunity for operators and countries to address a huge demographic that remains untapped.

As countries in the developed world have already experienced, emerging markets are also embarking on a revolution, driving largely by the youth population in a number of countries. Indeed, the youth demographic represents the majority of potential consumers that desire access to copious volumes of data. This segment of society in particular is driving the adoption of health, education, financial and entertainment applications, all underpinned by mobile technology infrastructure.

Huawei, like other players in the mobile ecosystem, understands that the challenge does not lie in generating interest for this technology revolution, but ensuring that the infrastructure currently connecting the developed world can provide the same benefits in those markets still bereft of mobile infrastructure.

It is therefore important that the networks providing people with critical high-speed connectivity can enable the widest possible coverage through higher power, more targeted transmission, while integrating multiple technologies such as cellular, Wi-Fi and microwave to make their deployment both faster and cheaper.

Above all else, ensuring the development of affordable solutions is ever more critical to overcome the world’s digital divide.

Economics behind universal access
Being aware of this considerable challenge of connecting the unconnected is only the first part of the solution.

Operators, network vendors and other players in the ecosystem need to ensure their investments are generating the desired results.

In a world where technology is driving advancement, ensuring better coverage, network efficiency, higher capacity and enabling a better experience to support the influx of richer services is now of paramount importance.

But, the driving factors behind a more universally connected world comes with a set of issues and challenges that still need to be overcome.

The one important way to provide better capacity is through additional spectrum, and this commodity remains both scarce and expensive.

And looking ahead, deploying new radio technologies such as 5G means mobile operators will need to remove certain spectrum blocks for LTE, UMTS, GSM and other existing technologies, or buy entirely new spectrum.

This is where Huawei’s CloudAIR spectrum sharing technology can play a major role. The product, first introduced at the annual Mobile Broadband Forum in 2016, aims to address these very issues, while redefining the fundamentals of enabling access to mobile networks.

CloudAIR uses advanced scheduling to allow different Radio Access Technologies to share the same spectrum within a carrier band. The solution aims to dynamically allocate frequency units, and focuses on technical areas of cloudification such as spectrum.

“Spectrum cloudification enables spectrum sharing between new and existing technologies and eliminates the need for dedicated spectrum,” said Huawei in a recent report. “By leveraging this aspect of CloudAIR, operators are free to deploy new radio technology without waiting for traffic to decrease and vacate the spectrum.”

Access points
But, what good is connectivity without the devices that provide the access? Huawei notes that there remains a lack of entry level devices which can supply the most basic level of mobile broadband services.

And this is a very important driving factor towards universal access. Providing affordable connectivity does not alone solve the problem. Affordable devices to access this connectivity is also an important piece of the wider jigsaw puzzle.

To address this particular challenge, Huawei believes there needs to be a concerted drive within the market to introduce entry level handsets in markets where mobile penetration remains low. Huawei has been one of the world’s leaders in helping construct an entry level device ecosystem. Google’s Android One software is another apt example, which was initially designed as a simple version of its stock Android software tailored for first-time smartphone users in emerging markets.

Sites in sight
Aside from spectrum deficiency and entry-level devices, a major constraint lies in the availability, or lack of, site infrastructure that can be used to enable wider-reaching connectivity.

Huawei has identified that multiple-layer networks are now an inevitable trend in today’s mobile broadband era, particularly if data volume will indeed increase 20-fold by 2020, as projected by industry association GSMA.

In other cases, Huawei has also identified the need to deploy entire new sites in a simple, fast and cost-efficient manner. To that end, the company has developed Three-Star Site Solutions, namely PoleStar, TubeStar and RuralStar, with each addressing different requirements to deploying additional coverage capabilities in emerging markets.

As part of the three-part method, Huawei explained Macro Site is the basic layer of the site covering basic coverage and capacity, with TubeStar one of the new models of this. Polestar is the middle layer of the piece providing deep coverage and hotspot connectivity and can be installed on lamp posts and other poles, while RuralStar provides coverage in the harder-to-reach rural areas.

Indeed, one of the biggest issues operators face in catering to that demand is longstanding issues of site acquisition and property admission, which make the construction of macro sites even more difficult.

A way to remedy the problem is to transform networks from pure macro site models into multi-layer networks, and research from the Chinese vendor indicates that enormous resources are available around the globe for site deployment.

According to a study, approximately 1 billion power and street light poles, 100 million monitoring and transmission poles, 10 million phone booths and 10 million billboards could be utilised globally, with most of the poles already possessing the core elements required to deploy a site, such as power and transmission resources.

To help build and deploy multi-layer networks, Huawei also offers scenario-specific site solutions to address challenges in those cases that lack the fundamentals, such as power and transmission facilities, and are subject to high infrastructure costs up front, high rent and limited site value.

As part of a wider drive to boost the “site ecosystem”, Huawei believes its “solutions can help customers reduce costs, such as in site acquisition, leasing and infrastructure, to increase the amount of investment available” for other means.

In this way, customers can reconstruct the site total cost of ownership (TCO) and quickly increase the site density, improving network coverage as well as user experience.

Case studies
Today, Huawei’s site solutions are already deployed widely around the world.

In Thailand, where mobile user penetration currently stands at 146.7 per cent and the smartphone penetration is 85 per cent, there is clearly a distinct need for more capacity as a rapid growth in 3G/4G users has left operator networks congested.

To relieve congestion, Huawei has provided innovative solutions based on the local pole resources, with more than 3,000 sites deployed, increasing network capacity by 50 per cent in cities.

The company expects a return on this investment will be received within just two years.

Similar solutions have also been deployed in a number of other markets. In Argentina, site acquisition in particular is difficult and time consuming because it requires government approvals, in addition to other requirements, meaning the entire process can take more than six months on average.

Huawei has helped the process, serving as a consultant to the government on ICT development and helping the government to activate municipal resources and the operators are then able to acquire necessary sites in batches. By granting operators permission to deploy sites in office buildings and on light polls for example, operators were able to double network construction efficiency in the county, while reducing their own costs in the process.

With the aim of bridging the connectivity divide, Huawei has already deployed RuralStar in many countries, including Ghana, Thailand, Algeria and Nigeria.

Highlighting Thailand, Huawei’s solutions are designed to help with the government’s plans to provide network coverage to 70,000 villages by 2018, in addition to providing smarter solutions to the country’s agricultural sector.

The overall aim of RuralStar is to ensure operators invest in harder to reach regions with solutions designed to optimise spectrum usage and significantly reduce the time to recover the initial investment.