Joe Barrett Issue: Asia-Pacific I 2015
Article no.: 3
Topic: Bridging the Digital Divide in Asia-Pacific
Author: Joe Barrett
Title: Prseident
Organisation: GSA (Global Mobile Suppliers Association)
PDF size: 360KB

About author

Joe is the President of the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) and founder of VisionComs Ltd, a strategic marketing and communications consultancy focusing on innovative marketing programs that target the wireless generation. Joe is a creative thinker with a proven career as a senior strategist, marketing executive and public speaker benefiting from 25+ years experience of advancing wireless technologies into dynamic and fast growing industries, at start-up and Fortune 500 companies.
Joe has held senior executive positions at Qualcomm Europe, where he launched the Qualcomm Halo™ Wireless Electric Vehicle Charging brand, at Nokia Networks where he was part of the 3G-business team and at Flarion Technologies helping drive the adoption of its OFDMA 4G technology.
Joe has been involved in numerous telecommunications marketing campaigns and initiatives and has been a regular speaker at industry events and investor/analyst meetings where he has promoted wireless technologies into industry.
Joe holds an MSc. in Marketing from the University of Glamorgan and the Advanced Diploma in Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

Article abstract

Connecting schools to the Internet and connecting them with each other via ICT tools is an important means of getting the youth engaged and opening up their minds to the wider possibilities the Asia-Pacific region offers, which is important as the International Labour Organization warns of a global youth employment crisis. 

Full Article

Mobile Broadband – Bridging the Digital Divide in Asia-Pacific
Over the last two decades we have seen the emergence of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as a global force for change. The social and economic impact of ICT has been most apparent in developed countries, yet even here there is a clear division between those who have good access to ICT and those who have not, most often referred to as the Digital Divide.
The potential benefits ICT brings to the wider community include improved efficiency, making country firms more competitive on the global stage, improvements in education, health, welfare and in particular economic growth. Based on a study carried out by Arthur D Little, of 33 OECD counties, doubling of broadband speed increases GDP by 0.3%, equating to USD126 Billion, due to direct, indirect and induced effects.
Access to and sharing of information via the Internet is now seen as a basic component of everyday business and personal life and is often considered important for security reasons. The discrepancies between those who have and those that have less has encouraged governments, regulators and technology companies to look at potential solutions.
In Asia-Pacific countries, access to fixed broadband can be more difficult since populations can be greatly dispersed with the ratio of built up city to rural areas skewed more to rural countryside where broadband access can be sparse or in some cases non-existent.
In these outlying areas mobile broadband can have an important part to play.
Economics
The economics of deploying fixed cable broadband access in less densely populated areas is challenging. Until recently, mobile technologies were also less able to meet the economic criteria for rural coverage and in some cases governments had to mandate specific mobile coverage to overcome the reluctance of operators to expand network coverage to outlying areas – though this has been predominantly for mobile telephony.
Digital dividend
After many years of negotiations with broadcasters, the global migration of terrestrial TV to digital will enable much more efficient use of Ultra High Frequency (UHF) spectrum, thereby creating what has been termed a Digital Dividend. This spectrum is ideally suited for mobile broadband, needing far less cell sites and can also travel deep into buildings improving indoor coverage. Figure 1. The Digital Dividend provides many countries in Asia-Pacific the potential to address the Digital Divide.

Figure 1: Relative Cell Coverage Area by Frequency: Source Ericsson APT700 report
APT Band Plan
The Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT) band plan is a segmentation of the UHF 698–806 MHz band and is usually referred to as the 700 MHz band. It is configured for the deployment of mobile broadband technologies in particular 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution). This configuration exists in two variants, FDD (Frequency Division Duplex) and TDD (Time Division Duplex) that have been standardized by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).
APT has acknowledged the 700MHz digital dividend band as a candidate for regional harmonization and has subsequently developed a regulatory framework for the 694/698-806 MHz band for two proposed spectrum arrangements and was finalized 2011 – known as APT700. The FDD variant (Band 28) in particular has gained the attention of regulators and operators across Asia, Oceania and the Americas and also in EMEA where regulators are expected to agree that future spectrum allocations in the 700 MHz band will align with a part of APT700 band 28. APT700 has the potential to become a near-global band for LTE deployments with committed markets already serving 3.2 billion people.
The APT band plan has been designed to enable the most efficient use of available spectrum for both broadcasters and mobile operators while the 700MHz frequency is ideally suited to rural mobile broadband coverage and could help towards solving the current Digital Divide issues in Asia-Pacific.
Commercial service
As of January 2015 there are eight commercially launched APT700 networks in Asia-Pacific, Figure 2, and 55 APT smartphones, tablets, CPEs (Customer Premises Equipment) and MiFi hotspot devices available from 11 manufacturers, including Apple, HTC, Huawei LG, Samsung, Sony Mobile and TCL/Alcatel.
Australian operator Telstra, who, in 2013 committed AU$1.3 billion to acquire spectrum licenses including 2x20MHz blocks in the 700MHz band, has been a vocal supporter of rural mobile broadband jointly promoting APT700 with the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) and the GSM Association (GSMA) to communicate the APT700 benefits and opportunities to businesses and consumers.

Figure 2: APT700 Operator Launches. Source GSA

APT700 has progressed quickly and the current rollout of networks is testament to the support from network infrastructure suppliers including Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia and the previously mentioned handset manufacturers. In many respects APT700 is a natural progression for mobile operators and meets a growing need for better cell coverage while also addressing the economic barriers of deploying mobile broadband service into semi- and rural locations where the Digital Divide is most evident.
The less the discrepancy between urban and rural broadband speeds the greater the benefits to the whole of the country population. But can mobile really deliver the speeds that users will demand?
That is already happening. As part of the evolution of 4G LTE/LTE Advanced, the 3GPP standard includes the capability for Carrier Aggregation (CA). CA is part of LTE-Advanced release 10 and commercial LTE networks were launched initially in Korea, in 2013, with Category 3 & 4 devices capable of 100-150 Mbps in a continuous 20 MHz of spectrum. Category 6 devices have been in the market since 2014 supporting 300 Mbps with 20 + 20 MHz bandwidth. Category 9 devices will see operators be able to provide 450 Mbps in 60 MHz of bandwidth. The evolution to higher and higher data rates does not stop there with 1 Gbps data rate networks and devices anticipated in the near future.
At the beginning of 2015 there were 49 commercially launched LTE-Advanced CA networks around the world, many with peak Down Link (DL) speeds of 300Mbps; 11 LTE Advanced networks are commercial in the Asia Pacific region.
The APT700 low band can be combined with higher bands, both FDD and TDD, so mobile broadband operators can provide high capacity, high data rates and large cell coverage at acceptable economics. Figure 3.

Figure 3: Carrier Aggregation

Delivering high data rates via an economically viable mobile broadband service is critical to narrowing the Digital Divide. Over the past five years there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of data traffic being carried by mobile operators and this trend is set to continue as video, social media activity and data hungry applications dominate mobile usage. Figure 4.
In Asia-Pacific, APT700 and 4G LTE Carrier Aggregation will see a broader range of the population have access to ICT with the resulting benefits that access to knowledge and information brings.

Figure 4: Total Mobile Monthly Voice and Data: Source Ericsson

The benefits of APT700 and rebalancing of the Digital Divide will allow people, who do not want to move into cities, to stay in their villages and connect to educational and employment opportunities. Mobile broadband Internet will help those people in rural and remote areas get access to doctors and on-line medical services and facilitate the education of young people where teachers are in short supply or where school facilities are unavailable.
Connecting schools to the Internet and connecting them with each other via ICT tools is an important means of getting the youth engaged and opening up their minds to the wider possibilities the Asia-Pacific region offers, which is important as the International Labour Organization warns of a global youth employment crisis.
Device Costs
The cost and range of LTE user devices including smartphones has been falling rapidly in light of LTE’s and APT700’s global success, explosive growth in China and the booming choice of products produced by Chinese and other Asia-Pacific manufacturers. Lower cost mobile devices could bring a massive boost for countries implementing e-government programs, especially remote education and health/medical diagnosis – for the benefit of all citizens.
Ultimately, mobile broadband complements the fixed Internet and will bring Asia-Pacific societies, regions and countries closer together with little difference between the level of ICT experience and richness of a user in a remote village in northern Thailand or a teenager sat in a coffee shop in the metropolitan sprawl of Seoul.