It wasn’t all that long ago when our modest mobile phones were just that, capable only of providing us with voice and SMS services. Today, these devices have evolved into “smartphones”. They enable us to read the daily newspaper; listen to the latest hit songs; book a holiday to Europe and even sling birds at little green pigs on these devices. Oh…and make calls and send instant messages.
The rate at which we’ve seen the popularity of these smartphone devices increase drives home the fact that mobile connectivity has become an indispensible part of our daily lives. Our thirst for information, the desire to be constantly connected, and our differing set of needs will continue to drive innovations in devices, such as my smartphone, tablet and PC which are all connected to a 3G network.
While my mobile devices in Hong Kong compliment the range of fixed network options at my disposal, it is in the emerging markets where we will continue to see users having greater reliance on mobile gadgets. By 2014, 75 percent of total broadband connections will be made via a mobile device. Just last year in Indonesia, 70 percent of all Internet access hits were made from a mobile phone (source: Yahoo!).
The explosive growth of devices clamoring for access and theincreased reliance we all place on the network is putting enormous pressure and responsibility on operators, regulators and government ministries. Regulators are looking at how they can allocate more spectrum, harmonised of course with what the rest of the world is doing to take advantage of economies of scale for device production. Similarly, operators are looking at further network build-outs, just to keep up with this surge in data demand.
Yet with all of these activities underway, we still have not recognised some of the fundamental issues that will impact our ability to get access to robust and responsive networks. We still have to get all of the information from its source, to the base station, across the airwaves and into our device. We need to ensure we have adequate backhaul. While there are many components in the network’s chain, we have increasingly observed that backhaul is proving to be the weakest link in many markets across Southeast Asia.
Our other Achilles heel is spectrum. It may be air to some, but it is very much a finite resource and we do need to allocate it wisely.
Firstly, we need to understand the demands and future requirements better to make informed decisions on allocating and assigning the spectrum in the coming months and years . We all have to be more inquisitive: how is the radio spectrum being used; what shifts in demand and applications are taking place; and what might the future look like. Given the scarcity of spectrum, we must strive to use as efficiently as possible and maximize the utility of this finite resource.
With the growing demands for access to the radio spectrum and ongoing technological advancements in the provision of services (e.g., digital television) , we need to review frequency assignments a-=nd continue to pursue efficient allocations and assignment of the resource. Sound spectrum management enables manufacturers to build devices that function in as many markets as possible so users can benefit from the lower costs associated with larger scale. For example, th is could mean the difference between paying $200 for a device instead of $2,000.
And, finally, we also want to make sure that we are allocating and assigning sufficient spectrum to operators and not constraining the development of markets, which would adversely affect consumers. With regard to advanced mobile wireless technologies such as LTE, new mobile applications supported by LTE will only be realised if larger swaths of spectrum, such as 15 or 20Mhz, or more are made available. Simply, if you want to push more ‘stuff’ down a pipe at a given time, then you need to have a bigger pipe. Given that many markets throughout Southeast Asia have an abundance of operators, unfortunately not all will end up realising their LTE dreams. Some level of industry consolidation in certain markets seems inevitable and perhaps some level of government action is required to make it conducive for operators to merge.
Indeed, the mobile phone has certainly come a long way since its humble beginnings, and indeed too network technology has also moved at a blistering pace. Yet, it is the non-technical issues that may very well hamper us if we do not address this quickly.