|Topic:||Mobile broadband: A global transformation towards a networked knowledge society|
|Author:||Imad Y. Hoballah|
|Title:||Acting Chairman and CEO; Head of Telecommunications Technologies Unit|
|Organisation:||Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Lebanon (TRA)|
Imad Y. Hoballah, PhD is Acting Chairman and CEO and Head of Telecommunications Technologies Unit, Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Lebanon (TRA). He was previously the CEO of Omnix Media Networks and held a number of executive positions at Lucent Technologies and AT&T Bell Laboratories. Dr Hoballah serves as the Chairman of the ITU CCV Committee and as Vice Chairman of the Arab Spectrum Management Group (ASMG) and, has been actively involved in the group’s work to coordinate issues related to Spectrum Management, World Radio-communication Conferences and other matters concerning coordination between Arab States and other regions in the spectrum management field. In July 2011, Dr Hoballah assumed the Arab Regulators Network (AREGNET) presidency and was elected as Vice President of the executive committee of the “Arab Infrastructure Regulatory Forum (AIRF)” in December 2011.
Dr. Hoballah received a diploma from the Program for Executive Development from IMD Lausanne (Switzerland, 2000), a Master’s certificate in project management from George Washington University (Washington DC, 1997), an Executive Masters of Business Administration from Columbia University (New York, 1994), a Ph.D. in EE/Communications from Syracuse University (NY, 1986), and MS in electrical engineering from Syracuse University (NY, 1982), as well as a B.S in chemistry from the Lebanese University (Lebanon 1979).
Mobile broadband has to be multi-purpose and multi-standard to support the transformation of the socio-economic environment in developing countries. Broadband regulations must address emerging issues such as user privacy, data integrity and confidentiality and communication security. To free up more of the air interface, regulators need to re-allocate the spectrum for broadband via re-farming spectrum bands. Regulation is also needed for setting up measures to manage interference issues between service providers, and for modifying procedures to encourage cross administration infrastructure sharing.
With tens of millions of new subscribers joining the hundreds of millions of consumers who enjoy mobile broadband every month, it is difficult to imagine a world without it. The era of smart phones has turned the market upside down, with mobile broadband emerging as the engine for innovative change in the global entertainment industries and the Internet, introducing major transformations to the social, economic, and work experiences.
Mobile broadband is ushering in a new way of life globally. Today’s mobile phone is so essential to daily life that it has moved from being a mere technological object to being a key social object capable of influencing consumption behaviour in a pervasive way. Consumers now expect the ability to use any device to view movies, stream music and TV, install applications, and make video calls at any time and place. Consumers spend more time on the Internet than reading printed versions of newspapers and magazines. E-commerce is growing more rapidly than in-store sales. Applications related to telemedicine, e-banking and e-government are also elevating the mobile user experience.
This article discusses factors contributing to the take-up of mobile broadband, as well as some innovative applications and services available for users. It also highlights the complementary relation of mobile broadband to fixed broadband. Finally, the paper discusses what regulations should be adopted to ensure the benefits of mobile broadband connectivity.
The take-up of mobile broadband
Mobile broadband is the fastest growing segment of the MENA telecom market, with numbers of subscribers expected to leap from approximately 12 million in 2010 to about 265 million by 2015. Subscriber base increase, and consequently traffic increase, is driven by improved network performance and capacity, the launch of 3G/LTE mobile services, the availability of new devices like smart phones and tablets, and applications providing new ways of mobile device and service use. Mobile broadband services are growing exponentially, driven by increasing consumer demand for feature-rich, high-quality services, by the greater availability and accessibility of financial and social applications (e.g. m-banking and Facebook), and by increased availability and popularity of affordable, high-performance devices. More consumers are using different applications with their mobile device: they surf the web, check email, participate in social networks, and watch videos. Consequently, mobile data traffic is expected to double annually over the coming years. Mobile broadband will also overtake desktop Internet usage by 2014. See Figure 1 below.
Will Mobile Broadband Overtake Fixed Broadband as the Preferred Connection of Choice?
Mobile broadband is a new phenomenon poised to play a substantial role in boosting global Internet access. The introduction of 3G/LTE services has increased demand for ubiquitous broadband connectivity, rendering the mobile market an attractive opportunity for service providers. The question then arises: “Can/will mobile broadband overtake fixed broadband as the connection mode of choice”? This depends on what individual broadband requirements are. Some find the flexibility of remote service access ideal, but where large movie and music downloads, or online games, are desirable, mobile broadband may not be suitable. Mobile broadband is ideal for those who need broadband on the move (e.g. frequent hotel guests seeking to avoid high bills), and for light users who check e-mail and browse the web without requiring bandwidth-intensive activities. Fixed broadband, alternately, is ideal for people requiring a home connection for streaming videos, downloading music or sharing broadband with other household members. As it stands, sales of Internet-enabled mobile phones now exceed desktop computer sales. As Figure 1 indicates, mobile broadband will overtake desktop Internet usage by the year 2014 in terms of penetration but not necessarily traffic.
Today, deployment of fixed and mobile broadband networks is complementary. World deployment experiences show that some countries deployed mobile broadband with fibre backhaul, which in turn enabled FTTH deployment. In other countries, the deployment of FTTH infrastructure was utilised for mobile broadband backhaul. Ultimately, fixed broadband exists for backhauling, for mobile offload, and for stationary customers, whereas mobile broadband exists to provide broadband on the go.
Mobile broadband applications
Broadband applications are pushing a major transformation that will impact people’s ways of life, education, work environments, health, economies, and every aspect of the global social norms. Mobile broadband offers a vast array of opportunities for economic growth and the improvement of the quality of life. New advances will create opportunities for innovative applications, services and devices. Many sectors such as health care, energy, transportation, finance, and education will be transformed by the availability of affordable, high-speed wireless internet connectivity. The smart phone revolution, combined with affordable broadband, constitutes an attractive opportunity for local application developers and content providers to reach global markets and different market segments. Such mobile applications extend to news, weather, games, social networking, and entertainment.
New technologies have emerged to accommodate consumer behaviour changes and to lift the user experience to unprecedented levels. Examples are geo-location, out-building and in-building navigation, HTML5, contextual applications and augmented reality, cloud computing, Near-Field Communication (NFC), and voice and sensory-based recognition. In addition, mobile broadband development can bring substantial benefits to productivity, education, e-inclusion and the general economic development of society. It will also transform ways of living, since innovative practices in business, government, education, and healthcare now critically depend on the instantaneous communication of information. National broadband networks facilitate the integration and the delivery of e-Government, e-Health and e-Education services. To benefit from these services, governments should empower academic research on devices, services, and applications. Governments should also encourage development of local content addressing consumer interests with respect to the local environment, culture and orientation.
The inability to predict the staggering variety of potential uses and applications of mobile broadband, along with a general lack of a regulatory framework in various countries, provides new challenges that regulators must address. Broadband regulations must carefully address emerging issues such as privacy protection, data integrity, and security concerns. Some of the imminent challenges are:
Optimising the use of spectrum for mobile broadband services: Bands for mobile services, especially Digital Dividend bands at 800 MHz, must be used efficiently. For rural areas, the deployment of mobile broadband at 800 MHz should be considered a primary alternative to fixed broadband since it is less time consuming and costly.
In this regard, regulators are encouraged to press for minimal regulatory actions and guidelines such as:
• Making much larger spectrum bands available for mobile broadband use.
• Re-farming spectrum bands (e.g., GSM 900 MHz and 1800 MHz), providing room for technologies such as HSPA+, LTE.
• Imposing coverage obligations (e.g., licensed operators on 800 MHz to cover 95 per cent of underserved areas)
• Increasing the availability of prime harmonised spectrum bands such as FDD in 800 and 1800 MHz
• Making combined spectrum bands available for coverage and capacity purposes, (e.g. 800 MHz & 2.6 GHz or 1800 MHz & 2.6 GHz)
• Setting measures to manage interference issues between service providers, especially between TV operators and new mobile operators on digital dividend bands such as 800 MHz (from 790-862 MHz)
• Deciding whether coverage obligations should be applied to specific spectrum bands (e.g., 800 MHz for remote and rural areas) or licensed mobile operators irrespective of the operating band
Reducing regulatory burdens and barriers: This is essential for lowering the cost of deploying network infrastructures. Thus, regulators should facilitate access to public and private properties. Regulators should also modify current procedures to adopt active infrastructure sharing (e.g., Single RAN and spectrum re-farming), and passive tower and duct sharing, which will lower operating costs and release capital for other investments.
Ensuring secure access to mobile broadband applications and services: This, along with preventing unauthorised use of information, is essential for regulators to undertake. This may be achieved by establishing national bodies to provide guidance on application use, promote local content addressing consumer concerns, and educate the public about content safety and privacy risks. Moreover, regulations protecting customers against bad business practices and violations of data privacy should be adopted.
Mobile technology is expanding the digital frontiers beyond what was imaginable a few years ago, transforming lives at the personal, social and business levels. This development is not limited to the richer part of our world but rather a global phenomenon that may even allow some developing counties to leapfrog in the mobile broadband arena. The mobile phone is no longer a mere communications device but is instead an enabler to access to relevant information at any time and place.
Mobile broadband will need to be multi-purpose, multi-standard, and inclusive in order to support the ongoing global transformation of social norms. A vast web of virtual relationships and digital person-object interactions will require a backbone of flexible broadband technologies.
Finally, to ensure that mobile broadband reaches its full potential, nations must support both the deployment of mobile broadband technologies and the proliferation of mobile devices, address security issues; ensure the efficiency of spectrum use and coverage; and promote digital literacy to maximise the benefits of a mobile broadband economy.