If broadband is accepted as a critical national infrastructure upon which socio-economic development depends, government must make deployment a strategic priority to ensure universal access in emerging markets, remote and rural regions which are not commercially viable for private sector investment. Next generation networks require tremendous capex outlay, with a crucial disconnect of timescales between the fast pace of technological development and mid- to long-term return on investment. New thinking on infrastructure models, financing, and regulation is called for.

  • A mix of technologies is necessary to ensure ubiquitous broadband connectivity:
    • Wireless technologies are vital to reach the 70% or more of the population of developing countries living in rural areas.
    • LTE promises flexibility to adjust to rural or metropolitan coverage; but fibre backhaul will ultimately be required to provide sufficient capacity. There is no way to leapfrog optical fibre in the long-term.
    • WiFi is free, unlicenced and driving uptake of broadband services in large volumes in urban hotspots and in rural regions. An integrated, unified approach of mobile, wireless in the home and fibre backhaul will ensure access and meet demand.
    • Hybrid networks including fibre in the core, wireless, satellite, small cells, macro cell and licenced mobile in combinations relevant to local market circumstances provide the long-term solution to capacity, ubiquity and coverage.
  • Non-discriminatory infrastructure sharing, whether mandated wholesale access or functional separation, is key to innovative business models funding broadband roll-out:
    • Governments or incumbents may function as monopolies in some fixed networks.
    • Separate access and service provisioning in open access model to remove bottleneck, allow content providers to package for market.
    • Disaggregate services such as backhaul for use by any technology in non-discriminatory manner.
    • Coherent linking of infrastructure to provide regional utility backbone; sharing networks with other sectors such as oil, electricity grids, or tower vendor models, to reduce deployment costs.
    • Passive and active sharing of infrastructure elements; joint deployment in consortia, or one network provider leasing access.
    • Local entrepreneurs to establish sustainable local networks and hotspots in response to local needs; federate and integrate with larger nationwide operators.
  • Refined regulation is necessary to ensure efficient interconnection and cooperation of industry players, enable return on investment and ensure fair consumer pricing and access:
    • Regulatory sensitivity to enable limited competition or oligopoly as only effective means of bringing broadband investment.
    • Light regulation targeted to stimulate investment and innovation; stability and transparency of regulatory framework vital.
    • Awareness of evolving realities of IP-based networks where distance, location and time are unimportant; and industry dynamics where connectivity is the product rather than voice, consumers are defining apps and service at network edge.
    • Awareness of differing regional requirements. Unified licencing for services irrespective of delivery technology but enabling capacity and backhaul. Adopt international best practices and adapt to national and regional requirements.
    • Use regulatory framework to empower end-users developing technology.
  • Government to provide regulatory and policy framework promoting investment, and participate in broadband roll-out either directly or more commonly in public-private partnerships:
    • Incentivize operators to provide infrastructure in rural and remote white spots, through public-private partnerships, use of universal access, coverage obligations or cross-subsidizing from profitable services.
    • Balance cost to industry and to taxpayer in providing national broadband infrastructure. Consider offering consumer choice dependent upon individual consumption rather than costly universal provision where demand is uncertain.
    • Encouraging open access to rights of way, to submarine cables, to all delivery technologies and to development of applications and services.
    • Serious impact assessment of policy implications for long-term national benefit rather than short-term political or financial gain: balancing lower tariffs for consumers with impact on operator revenue and available capex.
    • Raise public awareness of importance of broadband and barriers to deployment at highest level, including finance ministries.
  • Spectrum management is vital to ensuring affordable, available access:
    • Transparent longer-term spectrum policy to provide investor certainty as to risk, exposure and viability of business models.
    • Manage spectrum to encourage investment, competition and sector development, refarming or repurposing for early and affordable release; move away from the mindset of one-off financial gains from upfront licence fees.
    • Use spectrum policy to support alternative technologies, network sharing and asset management; allocate spectrum according to regional and technological need to drive ubiquity.
    • Harmonize internationally to release economies of scale at device level.