Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mobile World Congress: Africa urged to harmonize broadband options


African telecommunications regulators have been tasked to ensure the harmonization of policies to encourage frequency distribution that would boost mobile broadband and enhance the chances of benefiting from digital dividends.

A team of experts from the Global System for Mobile Association (GSMA) and Qualcomm Corporation were united in making this call as they took time one after another, reiterating the need for the African continent to put its house in order to optimally take advantage of mobile broadband craze.

Speaking at a session for African regulators on ‘The Digital Dividend: How to Deliver Broadband for All’ at the 2010 edition of the Mobile World Congress (MWC), which ended last weekend in Barcelona, Spain, they enjoined African regulators to join forces to boost broadband diffusion.

Unarguably, they expressed no doubt that the future of mobile communications is broadband, which is anticipated to stimulate economic development across the world and developing countries in particular, most of which are in Africa.

Leading the team was the chairperson of the Spectrum Management Group at GSMA, Mrs. Elizabeth Cassin, who noted that mobile technology has revolutionized the lives of millions of people in Africa and will continue to be the primary means for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) access including access for voice, data and internet-based services.

She was optimistic that mobile broadband has the potential to enhance access to health care and education, thereby creating new business opportunities, thus contributing towards the eradication of extreme poverty.

Cassin noted that though Africa is bigger than the United States, India, Argentina, and Western Europe in landscape, most of the technologies come from this part of the world to Africa.

Contributing, Director, Spectrum Regulation at GSMA, Mr. Roberto Ercole, said that Africa as at today needs broadband for mobile market sustainability, because for him, “mobile broadband is about empowerment.”

Mobile, he said, is the primary the primary means of delivering broadband and Africa needs to implement policies to boost broadband presence on the continent.

He cited an instance with the UHF spectrum, saying that it goes further than core third generation (3G) spectrum and 2 Gega Hertz (GHz), pointing out that by doubling the range through UHF entails involvement of fewer base stations by 75 per cent.

According to him, UHF offers an attractive option to boost mobile broadband coverage in the rural areas in an economically efficient way, emphasizing that the business value of opportunities would vary from market to market with the broadband boom.

The anticipated boom, she said, would drive its end-results from two main aspects, namely the policies of the state on ICT sector and availability of compatible equipment in addition to deployment.

For the Senior Director, Regulations at Qualcomm Corporation, Mrs. Elizabeth Migwali, the only way forward is for the harmonization of unused frequencies, especially nowadays of digital migration, which has forced most operators of broadcasting stations to migrate to digital equipment from hitherto analogue systems.

This, she said, would reduce cost of devices and improved socio-economic well being of the populace, which includes the delivery of quality Television programme and broadband utilities through optimization of redundant UHF frequencies.

Government of Africa, she noted, embraced technology, thus given rise to the kind of evolution currently being witnessed on the continent.

“Government took approach to embrace technology to connect people of Africa,” she declared, stressing that the environment being created by African countries has evolved that all regulators should be in the position to deliver on mobile broadband for all the citizens.

Although Africa needs a wider bandwidth to drive broadband deliverables, this does not mean it has to turn its back on voice, assuring that Qualcomm, for instance is uniquely positioned to help using multimode.

Africa, Migwali said, needs to avoid fragmentation, when eventually we switch off analogue completely as expected in 2012, adding that this could be cushioned by starting now to deliberate on ways forward, especially on how to optimize the unused frequencies earlier issued for organizations using analogue deployment.

“We should assess the actual spectrum needs for Digital Television (DTV) below 790 Mega Hertz (MHz),” she said.

Migwali underscored the fact that it takes determination to appropriately cut off the analogue system when the time comes, but African regulators, must bear in mind to harmonize from one end of the region to another.

“We need to engage in regional discussions,” she declared, stressing that Africa must start discussion on how to use the digital dividend based on UHF redeployment.

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