" ITREALMS: ITU raises alarm over network congestion

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

ITU raises alarm over network congestion

Worried by decline in quality of telecommunications service worldwide, the global regulator of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), International Telecommunication Union (ITU), has warned that network congestion may worsen.

ITRealms Online recalls that the better part of last week saw most of the telecom mobile operators in the country experiencing network hiccups resulting in an avalanche of complaints.

But reacting, Globacom attributed the hiccups witnessed on the network on fire incident that occurred at one of its key installations in the city of Lagos.

Also, ITU expressing concern on network congestions, urged governments across the global to take urgent action now to support mobile broadband growth, which may have been heightened by increase in smartphone usage.

ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun Touré, made this known at the weekend in Geneva, noting that accelerated fibre roll-out and greater spectrum availability are imperative for network bottlenecks to be avoided.

He also said that already smartphone users consume on average five times more data capacity than users of ordinary mobile phones.

“With the number of smartphones set to rise from today’s global estimate of 500 million handsets in use to almost two billion by 2015, operators are already, having to employ multi-pronged strategies to keep up with demand – and not all are succeeding,” he said.

Mobile operators, Dr. Toure said, have been investing billions to upgrade and improve the capacity and performance of their networks, but in some high-usage cities, such as San Francisco, New York and London, users are still being frustrated by chronic problems of network unavailability.

According to Touré, robust national broadband plans that promote extra spectrum and faster roll-out of the fibre networks are essential to mobile backhaul which are vital to support the growing number of data-intensive applications.

ITU analysis, he pointed out has shown that 98 countries have National Broadband Plans in place, with this number set to increase over the next year.

He described mobile broadband as increasingly the technology of choice for hundreds of millions in the developing world, where fixed line infrastructure is often meager and expensive to deploy.

Toure said that based on ITU’s estimates, the number of mobile broadband subscriptions will reach one billion in the first quarter of 2011.

“With 90 per cent of the world now covered by a mobile signal, it is clear that mobile is a key tool to bridging the digital divide,” he said, stressing that by 2010, 73 per cent of total mobile cellular subscriptions were from the developing world.

Equally, he noted that in 2010, ITU had created the Broadband Commission for Digital Development to highlight the need for governments worldwide to promote broadband as a key development tool and push broadband network roll-out more proactively.

ITRealms Online recalls that the Broadband Commission co-chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim Helú, Honorary Lifetime Chairman of Grupo Carso, has Dr Touré and Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, as co-Vice-Chairs, while it comprised of some of the leaders in the mobile industry, including Alcatel Lucent’s Ben Verwaayen, Bharti Airtel’s Sunil Bharti Mittal, China Mobile’s Wang Jianzhou, Ericsson’s Hans Vestberg, Denis O’Brien of Digicel, Paul Jacobs of Qualcomm and César Alierta of Telefonica, alongside other prominent business figures, including Sir Richard Branson, John Chambers of Cisco and Paul Otellini of Intel. Top policy-makers and regulators on the Commission include the European Commission’s Neelie Kroes and the FCC’s Julius Genachowski.

The Commission’s report, delivered to United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon in New York last September, recommended that world leaders focus on building a ‘virtuous broadband development dynamic,’ and urged governments not to limit market entry, not to tax broadband and related services too heavily, and to ensure ample availability of spectrum to support mobile broadband growth.

Meanwhile, the President, National Association of Telecommunication Subscribers (NATCOMS), Mr. Deolu Ogunbanjo, while commiserating with Globacom over the reported fire incident that befell one of its key installations, said that consumers on data access and timed subscription deserve compensation.

He wondered what would become of these customers given that they paid for the services mostly upfront, NATCOMS president, called on the management of Globacom to make haste over this demand.

In the event no positive response emanate from the aforementioned demand, NATCOMS, he said, may be forced to drag Globacom to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

“We have to explore every avenue to ensure they – Globacom – compensate our members who are the consumers as far as this service disruption is concerned. It’s after all has failed without result we can now go to court,” he said.

In a related development, ITU anticipates that next World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) in January 2012, that operators in Europe and the US have already begun campaigning for increased spectrum for mobile communications, and for harmonized spectrum allocations in contiguous blocks for latest-generation technologies.

Operators from other regions seem certain to follow suit, as new high-revenue-generating mobile broadband services like mobile TV take off worldwide.ITU projected that some views were that access to unused broadcast spectrum – so-called ‘white spaces’ – might also help alleviate the spectrum squeeze.

“The ‘digital dividend’ of spectrum freed up by the progressive global move to digital radio and television seems certain to be high on the agenda of national delegations when they convene in Geneva for the four-week-long WRC-12,” he said.

Further, ITU said, the conference which held every three to four years is the global body which negotiates and manages the binding international treaty governing spectrum allocation.

Coming at a critical juncture in the future growth of the sector, the 2012 event is expected to welcome over 2,500 senior delegates from around the world.

For the moment, alleviating the capacity crunch is leading operators to employ a range of strategies – from investment in WiFi networks and encouraging users to install their own femtocell devices, to tiered pricing to penalize heavy data users, and regulatory approaches that would ask incumbents to open access to their fibre networks to competitors to provide critical backhaul for mobile data traffic.

In addition, more in-ground fibre is needed to move the growing volume of mobile data traffic from operators’ increasingly rapid radio access networks to their faster core networks, to optimize speed and call processing.

At present, most backhaul is performed on standard telecommunications twisted copper pair loops, which offer top speeds of around 34Mbit/s. Carrier-grade fibre backbones are around 300 times faster, as well as being optimized for packet-based data traffic, rather than circuit-switched voice.

Remmy Nweke:
ITREALMS Online ... delivering news for ICT4D

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