Archive for February, 2013

The mobile broadband boom in Latin America

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Most telecom markets in the LAC region have been both privatised and liberalised. Those that are still monopolies are striving towards an open market, but the privatisation trend has been reversed. Two countries (Venezuela and Bolivia) have renationalised their telecom incumbents, while other countries (Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Paraguay, Suriname, and Uruguay), where the main telco is still state-owned, are showing no interest in selling it to the private market.

All governments in Latin America have introduced some form of liberalisation, especially in the value-added and mobile markets. A few countries still have a monopoly in the local fixed-line telephony sector, notably Guyana, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

In the broadband sector, most incumbents have secured a virtual monopoly in the delivery of ADSL access. The only competition is across technologies, from cable modem and mobile broadband. Local Loop Unbundling is rare in this region, and wholesale activity not very well developed. The concern governments face is the shortage of fixed line infrastructure, tied to the fear that operators will cease to invest in their network if they are forced to unbundle their local loop or lower wholesale prices.

Fixed broadband market

Estimated fixed broadband penetration in LAC was 8.4% at end-2012, slightly below the world average of 9.2% but ahead of other developing regions such as South Asia and Africa. Nevertheless, Latin America has a long way to go before it can catch up with North America and Western Europe, where broadband penetration is over 30%.

Hurdles in the Latin American broadband market include:

  • weak competition and insufficient bandwidth (hence, expensive and/or slow services);
  • inadequate fixed-line infrastructure (hence, service unavailability in many areas);
  • low PC penetration, poverty, and unequal income distribution (hence, limited demand).

All of Latin America suffers from insufficient international connectivity, both between countries and with the rest of the world, as submarine cables are inadequate to meet the escalating need for bandwidth. This has pushed up broadband prices. In Bolivia, the most expensive country for broadband, 1Mb/s connection costs a staggering 55% of GDP per capita. In other LAC markets, the cost ranges between 1.3% (Uruguay) and 19.5% (Nicaragua) of GDP per capita – while in countries such as Spain and France, 1Mb/s connection costs 0.18% and 0.06% of GDP per capita respectively.

On the positive side, bandwidth has been increasing in most countries, leading to higher speeds and lower prices, while regulators seek measures to promote competition. Given the region’s general economic indicators, there is ample room for expansion.

Mobile broadband market

At end-2012, an estimated 10 million Brazilians used mobile broadband modems connected to their laptops or PCs (4.9% per capita penetration). Indeed, mobile broadband has become an important option for broadband services in the LAC region. The service is commonly used with either a USB modem that plugs into a computer, or with netbooks, notebooks, or laptops that have a built-in receiver.

Practically all LAC markets have operating UMTS networks with the exception of Belize, Cuba, Suriname, and a few Caribbean island nations. UMTS technologies in Latin America include HSPA, HSDPA, HSUPA, and HSPA+. Most operators use HSPDA to provide mobile broadband, multimedia downloads, mobile games, and video calling. Several companies also offer mobile TV.

Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks, dubbed 4G, have been deployed in four Latin American countries, and more are either planned or in trial. The region’s first LTE service was launched by AT&T in Puerto Rico, in November 2011. Another four companies followed suit in December 2011: Claro, also in Puerto Rico; Sky Telecom in Brazil; UNE/EPM in Colombia; and ANCEL in Uruguay.

Market Highlights

  • Telefónica and América Móvil are gradually consolidating mobile and fixed operations under the Movistar and Claro brands respectively.
  • The Brazilian government has issued a broadcasting law opening the cable TV market to fixed-line telcos and foreign investors.
  • The Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) market has finally burgeoned in a few LAC countries – including Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico. Virgin Mobile has launched MVNO services in Chile, and plans to enter Brazil and Colombia in 2013.
  • Chile’s Tower Act, devised for health and environmental reasons, is helping to promote MVNOs and infrastructure sharing.
  • Argentina has become an important manufacturer of cell phones and provides about 80% of all devices sold in the country. Driven by Twitter and Facebook, the combined penetration of smart phones and social phones has overtaken traditional devices in Argentina.
  • Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay launched Mobile Number Portability (MNP) in 2012, later than most of the other major LAC countries – Mexico and Brazil introduced MNP in 2008, Ecuador in 2009, Peru in 2010, and Colombia in 2011. Bolivia has passed a law for the introduction of MNP; but Venezuela and Uruguay have yet to approve MNP legislation.
  • To encourage customer mobility after the introduction of MNP, Chile’s regulator has banned the sale of carrier-locked handsets, and ordered operators to unlock devices free of charge.
  • The Brazilian government wants all major cities to have 4G/LTE services before the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
  • Fibre-optic backbone networks are being deployed in Brazil’s major cities as part of a National Broadband Plan.
  • With an investment of US$600 million, Colombia’s National Fibre Optic Project aims to deploy over 15,000km of fibre cable.
    • Peru’s national broadband plan aims to provide internet connectivity via a fibre-optic backbone to the more remote regions; it could boost broadband penetration from 4% in 2011 to 9% in 2016.

 BuddeComm’s annual publication, Latin American Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband Overview, provides a comprehensive overview of telecommunications in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), a region that includes some of the world’s most important emerging markets.

For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see:

Latin America – Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband Overview

 

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Why not take up Michael Quigley’s suggestion?

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

NBN politics and media comments in Australia are sometimes puzzling. With heated debates about every single bit of the NBN technology, and camps in favour and against, one would think if somebody as senior as the boss of NBN Co suggests – let’s review the NBN – that this would be welcomed and supported by those questioning the pros and cons of the NBN.

For more than a year the Opposition has been hammering on alternative plumbing solutions for the NBN. FttN and HFC have been spearheading their campaign, but in the past they also had wireless technologies on their list of alternatives. However they claimed that they do not have the resources or the information to investigate this properly – so one would have expected them to embrace the proposal to investigate the current NBN and other potential technical solutions. Obviously they do not trust NBN Co, but there are ways to make such an investigation politically neutral – for example, by asking Communications Alliance to do it – but that suggestion was also viewed with scepticism and an upfront reaction of ‘difficult to do’.

Then there were the comments that this was all a ploy by NBN Co to undermine the current government policy on the NBN. This is a ten-year project and BuddeComm has argued from the start that it would need to have enough flexibility to make changes if reviews of new developments or new knowledge become available.

We have also queried whether it would be possible to maintain good quality HFC and DSL infrastructure for as long as possible, and I for one would love to see if this kind of possibility is indeed a good option for NBN Co to consider.

So if this was an NBN Co ploy and the government had a flawed NBN plan then something like that would become clear in such a review. It is hardly unlikely that the entire industry would place their credibility on the line to defend a flawed plan. So an industry-led review would give a reasonable amount of independence; and, of course, nobody would stop the Coalition from participating. They were also invited to be involved in discussions when the technical and strategic design of NBN took place between 2007 and 2009 but they declined that offer.

Why would the Opposition not welcome such a review if they are so sure that they can get the NBN cheaper and faster into the market with their proposed technologies? Here is an excellent opportunity to put that to the test.

At the same time, if the government is certain that they have the best solution for the NBN, what do they have to fear from a review? So far the government has not opposed the suggestion made by Michael Quigley and that, in our view, indicates that they would not be averse to such an investigation.

If, on the other hand, the Opposition is not certain about its own proposals it most likely would not wish to have an independent body review these plans, as possibly such a review would not support the Opposition’s claims. In that case it would be much safer to do something like that after the election, so that they can set the agenda for any review.

There seems to be more of an interest in launching an inquiry into how much a cup of coffee costs at NBN Co than there is in investigating something as serious as the NBN operation.

Paul Budde

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PharmaWeb online Aged Care monitoring

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

PharmaWeb is a regional community based portal that links online health care monitoring and diagnostic services with physical “on the ground” services provided by local health care professionals.

Using the latest technologies in remote monitoring PharmaWeb provides a 24×7 online monitoring service to health and aged cared patients. Connecting the digital world to the physical world are a series of regional community based hubs that link the patients with on the ground health care professionals and the monitoring services. These community hubs are not for profit portals that enable patients and service providers to connect either online or in person.

It is proposed to initiate this project in the Swan Hill Rural City Council. As part of the “Advancing Country Towns” program Robinvale identified that there was a need for increased support for social enterprise and SMEs.

At the heart of the PharmaWeb service is a technology platform that has been developed and proven by NICTA. This platform brings together all of the players in a trusted environment. It allows service providers to offer their services to aged care patients; either in their home or in an aged care facility as well as to other aged care providers and carers. The platform enables the delivery of both services and content; building on the capability of broadband infrastructure and medical advancements in remote monitoring. It offers regional communities such as Robinvale the opportunity to participate in the digital economy creating knowledge based jobs and new sources of revenue from both services and content.

Through the use of remote monitoring and communications technologies the service will allow more of the population to age in place. This is particularly beneficial to rural and regional communities who typically have to travel long distances to access aged care and health services. It will provide patients with peace of mind that should their condition take a turn for the worse medical service will become aware of the potential difficulty and respond before the situation becomes critical.

PharmaWeb is in effect a network of local providers who collectively provide both physical and digital services/content to their patients. The scope for developing new content and services is far reaching as the health and wellbeing needs of an aging population is diverse and could include services such as online programs to improve cognition and exertion games to help mobility and rehabilitation.

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French government rekindles national FttH investment programme

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Over the last few years the French government has undertaken several measures to develop the country’s fibre broadband infrastructure. In late 2009 it committed itself to investing €4.5 billion to support the rollout of a fibre-based network through which it would oversee the building up of a range of e-services (teleworking, telemedicine, health, government, justice, education etc) able to exploit the network’s potential. The funds were to form part of a previously announced €35 billion bond issue: known as the ‘grand emprunt’, the scheme was one of a number of post-GFC stimulus packages which erupted across Europe and North America at the time.

The initial plan was to spend €2 billion to enable up to 57% of the population to access at least 100Mb/s services by 2016, and with the entire population to be covered by 2025. Public funding, it was hoped, would be supplemented by up to €4 billion from the private sector. In its support, the regulator adopted two undertakings concerning fibre rollout: one setting the regulatory framework for FttH across the country (beyond high-density areas), the second establishing terms of eligibility to receive financial aid from the digital regional development fund (the FANT).

Of the €4.5 billion, €1 billion would be paid to a number of operators (Orange, SFR, Iliad, Covage, Alsat and Ezyla among them) which had committed to service some 3,400 municipalities. Yet the scheme failed to gain traction since the telcos proved reluctant to invest their own money outside the larger urban areas.

Consequently, FttH in France has been progressing steadily, if more slowly than it might. Although the number of FttH subscribers grew 59% in the year to September 2012 (compared to 5% growth for all DSL variants), the overall number reached only 270,000. In addition to the large-scale efforts of the three main providers, regulatory measures engendered by the Economic Modernisation Law (which among other provisions made its mandatory to furnish new buildings with over 25 units with fibre) have ensured that operators can share network infrastructure. As a result, almost one million connected premises can be accessed by providers through these ‘pooled’ networks.

Mindful of the lack of progress from the 2009 effort, the (new) government has more recently been encouraged to develop a far more ambitious fibre investment plan. This is partly borne of two realities.

Firstly, France’s economy is as sick as any in Europe. There is no economic growth (like that of the UK, the economy is likely to shrink for this year), unemployment is high, and lower tax revenues suggest that the government will not bring the country’s deficit below the 3% level required by the EU. The French government recognises as much as any that capable broadband infrastructure is a necessity for economic growth.

Secondly, the EU’s recent decision to reduce the pot available to fund broadband (as part of the Connecting Europe Facility) from €9.2 to €1 billion (a casualty of overall EU-wide budget cuts) has placed greater responsibility on national governments to take the investment initiative.

This is the broad background for France’s more ambitious announcement: to invest €20 billion in fibre infrastructure over the next ten years, with the aim of delivering universal fibre-based broadband nationally (though LTE will doubtless form some valuable component). A third of the funds are to be provided by telcos for high-density areas, while rollouts in medium-density regions would be funded by telcos and communities jointly. The government will then contribute funds (accounting for perhaps half of the total) in rural areas where commercial incentives had earlier hindered telco cooperation. The timetable is to cover half of all premises by the end of 2017, with project completion by 2023.

Details of the plan, such as the likely new taxes required to help fund it, will be thrashed out in coming weeks. Perhaps, though, the willingness to undertake such a large-scale project, in the interest of the country’s future economic welfare, is the main hurdle overcome.

Henry Lancaster,
Senior Analyst

For more information on these developments, see the report France – Fibre and Wireless Broadband Insights

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Broadband and education – advancing education for all

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

The UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development has produced its next report: Technology, Broadband and Education. This is the eighth report published by the Commission since its inception in 2012. The other publications covered: State of Broadband, Broadband as a platform for Progress, e-Science, e-Health, and Broadband and Climate Change.

The key aim is to highlight the significant social and economic benefits that can be derived from broadband. We at BuddeComm are very proud to be closely associated with the work of the Commission, and also with this report on e-education, to which we have contributed some thoughts and ideas.

Click here for more information on the Broadband Commission.

According to the Chair of the Commission’s Working Group on Education, Irina Bokova the Director-General of UNESCO, “Education is essential for reaching all of these goals. A quality education is an essential human right. It is a foundation for the well-being of societies and a motor for economic success. UNESCO’s position is clear – education brings sustainability to all development efforts. Investing in education is the best way to invest out of poverty and in sustainable development”.

In the year 2000, the majority of the world’s governments adopted the Education for All (EFA) goals and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the two most important frameworks in the field of education. As a fundamental human right and an enabling force for sustainable development, education plays a key role in helping countries meet their international development agendas and has prominently featured in all global landmark summits organised ever since. In broad terms, the EFA goals and the education-related MDGs call for every citizen to be empowered with the necessary knowledge, skills and values to lead a fulfilling and productive life.

Over a decade later, the global education landscape is still bleak: as of 2010,621 million children of primary-school age and another 71 million of lower secondary-school age were out of school; close to 793 million adults – 64% of whom are women – still lack reading and writing skills, with the lowest rates in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia (UIS, 2011); 200 million young people need a second chance to acquire the basic literacy and numeracy skills essential to learning further skills for work (UNESCO, 2012b); and 1,7 million additional teaching positions will need to be created to attain Universal Primary Education (UPE) by 2015 (UIS, 2012).

In the twenty-first century, education cannot be separated from technology. Rapid advances in information and communication technology (ICT) and expanding connectivity to the internet have made today’s world increasingly complex, interconnected and knowledge-driven. Access to quality education for all – which includes access to ICT – in an imperative for building inclusive and participatory knowledge societies. However, disparities in access to technology and learning opportunities persist. Countries around the world are under pressure to bridge the digital, knowledge and gender divides by designing policies that enable access to the full potential of technology in a digital age.

With only two years away from the 2015 EFA and MDG targets, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and UNESCO have launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, comprising global government and education leaders and representatives from relevant industries, civil society, international agencies and development organizations, with the mandate to advocate access to broadband for all, especially for the world’s developing and least developed countries, and to promote affordable and equitable access to high-quality online content and resources.

This is the first report of the Broadband Commission Working Group on Education, whose mission is to further Education for All goals. The purpose of the report is to provide an overall vision about what works well in the field of technology, broadband and education. By analysing current trends and data, the report aims to explain why certain strategies, plans and activities are effective while others are not, and offer guidance for better-informed decision-making at the school level and beyond.

The report is divided into four main parts. The first section, ‘Setting the Stage’ provides a brief overview of the rationale for expanding and improving the use of technology, including broadband, in education. The second section, ‘Where Do We Stand?’ , describes the current situation in terms of access to technology and technology use in schools, and gives a snapshot of the policy environment for broadband and ICT in education. The third section, ‘Strategic Directions’, presents evidence for the ways in which new technology developments can increase the efficiency and efficacy of teaching and learning and increase equity in education. The fourth section, ‘The Policy Agenda’, advocates for policies and strategies that countries, particularly developing ones, should embrace in order to reap the full benefits of broadband in education. In the conclusion, ‘Looking Ahead’, the report makes recommendations for governments and policy-makers to leverage the power of technology and broadband to improve education. Finally, to highlight successful policies and best practices, examples of innovative uses of ICT and broadband in education are further illustrated by six case studies in the Appendix of the report.

Throughout the paper, the word ‘technology’ refers broadly to the group of networks, devices, applications and digital content used to communicate with others and obtain, generate or share information. For the purposes of this report, broadband internet access is defined as fixed or wireless high-speed access to public internet at download speeds of at least 256 Kbps (kilobits per second).

For a copy of the full report click here.

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