Speak to the right people and Africa is about much more than just the digital divide

Yesteryear’s conversation in Africa was all about balancing the commercial realities of bridging the digital divide, but this year’s AfricaCom has showcased the bigger ambitions of South Africa.

Perhaps we haven’t been giving the right people the podium in the past, but the conversation in Africa has always been focused on the same thing. How do you deliver connectivity to the masses on a continent which has significantly lower ARPU than more developed regions? While this is still a priority, this year’s AfricaCom conference is demonstrating there are bigger ambitions than simply enhancing coverage.

Yesterday we heard MTN’s ambitions to create a more agile organization which operates in the OTT space and can be branded as a digital services beast, and this morning’s presentations had a smart city twist. It might seem odd that we’re discussing such advanced ideas when basic connectivity is an issue, but why not? If Africa is going to compete in the digital era these conversations need to happen now, and these individuals need to be given their time in the limelight. The smart city segment in South Africa is an excellent example.

Looking at Cape Town, Omeshnee Naidoo, the city’s Director of Information Systems, told the audience the city has a fibre spine 1000km long but the project is still at the starting gate. The infrastructure rollout is set to finish in 2021, while the team has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Google to provide public wifi. The next step is figuring out how the initiative can now incorporate the citizens.

Johannesburg is in a similar position. Lawrence Boya, the smart city Director, said the city also has a fibre spine 1000km long, and currently more than 1500 public wifi spots. The challenge now is optimising the infrastructure and making sure government services are making use of the assets not going down the private route. Boya also highlighted the team are trying to figure out how to take the concept of smart cities down to a personal level for the citizens.

In both of these examples, steady progress is being made and the idea of the smart city might not be that far away. More government help is needed, both from a policy side as Boya highlighted South Africa currently lacks the framework to make smart cities sustainable, but also collaboration. Naidoo suggested public sector across the board in South Africa is far too siloed. To be fair to some local governments however, data sets have been opened up to the general public, providing the fuel for these new ideas.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to be honest, but perhaps we are guilty of pigeon holing Africa. Too many people, and admittedly Telecoms.com does this too often, suggest the only challenges in Africa are focused on expanding the connectivity footprint. This is patronising and ignores the excellent work which is happening further up the stack. It’s not the case that these initiatives are difficult to find, but maybe we need to give them more airtime instead of taking the easy ‘Africa needs to improve connectivity’ angle.

Google’s Loon is actually starting to look like a genuine business

The idea of using balloons floating 20km above the earth to provide connectivity quite frankly sounds bat-sh*t, but Google’s Loon is actually starting to look like a feasible business.

Google is a company which certainly attracts criticism, but you cannot argue with the creativity which is nurtured. The company has a knack of taking an idea which no-one has much commercial faith in and running with it.

Take Google Maps as an excellent example. For years it was nothing more than a helpful tool for users, but now it is turning into a commercial success. And Loon might just be the next moonshot to make waves. Speaking at AfricaCom, Alastair Westgarth, CEO of Loon, gave some insight into progress being made at the business, but also some of the challenges faced when attempting to use balloons to deliver the internet to some of the worlds digital baron lands.

Loon started life as ‘Project Loon’, one of the freewheeling ideas to come out of the mysterious X labs at Google. The idea was initially conceived in 2012 as a means to connect the five billion people around the world who are still without the internet, and named so purely because of the audacity of the concept. Last year, with the team gathering pace, the ‘Project’ part of the name was dropped and the company spun out into its own separate company. Justification for the confidence came soon after, with the team signing its first commercial customer in Telecom Kenya.

“Something which we’re really excited to announce today is that we have all our necessary regulatory approval in Kenya for our operations,” said Westgarth.

“It took a long time, it took partnership with government, partnerships with regulators as well as the MNO you’re working with. As we went on that journey we’ve been working with Liquid Telecom, Nokia, working with Telecom Kenya to install ground stations to connect the balloons, and that process is almost complete. Also we’ve been making sure we have the interconnection between where the Telecom Kenya ground infrastructure is and where our ground infrastructure is, so when someone finally connects to a balloon the signal goes all the way through from our balloon to Telecom Kenya.”

What Westgarth pointed out is this is not a substitute for traditional infrastructure, but an opportunity to enhance coverage. With each balloon capable of delivering a 5000 square km cone of LTE connectivity, this is an opportunity for those countries who deal with hostile environments to deliver the internet and bridge the digital divide in areas where traditional infrastructure is a no go. Westgarth pointed out around 50-60% of the world’s land mass is yet to receive the connectivity euphoria.

With the technology and concept validated, the challenge now is to make Loon a viable business.

“As much as we want to do good things in the world, we also want to be a profitable business,” said Westgarth.

The technology has more than proved its value after launches in Peru following an earthquake which decimated Telefonica’s network, as well as Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. These were ventures which justified the six years of struggles attempting to keep a balloon the size of a tennis court in the air for more than a month, while also keeping it juiced up and automating the steering.

This was a challenge which took ages according to Westgarth, as engineers had to learn how to read wind forecasts, before applying that to the balloons logistics, and then automating the process. It turns out getting a balloon to stay in the same place is a tricky task, as is getting it up in the air in the first place. The engineers had to design a completely custom launch system which, again, has been automated. Then you have to figure out how to monitor the health of the asset, as well as bring it down safely, in the right place and collect all the equipment.

The issue now is on the commercial side. The team are talking to various operators around the world, with particular enthusiasm from Africa and South America, though business is being massaged as the team search for the right balance between CAPEX and OPEX investments from the operators. Right now the balloons operate on an as-a-Service model, though you have to remember this is still early days, a business which is very much taking the first steps of its journey.

The focus will continue to be on Telecom Kenya for the moment, it is important to nail the first project or the business will never be a success, though Westgarth hopes to have more customers in 2019. Africa is seemingly the best opportunity for Loon, though having done most of the testing in South America, there is interest from the operators, while certain Asian markets fit the bill as well.

The balloons are now up there, and staying up, the boring commercial side has to be figured out now. However, this is just another example of how Google’s bold and adventurous attitude can reap rewards; it’s not an accident Google is one of the most influential companies on earth. And now even 20km above it…

TIP offers start-ups a new way into the telco business

With internet traffic continuing to accelerate and innovation starting to stagnate, new ideas are needed to stimulate the telco industry. For the Telecom Infra Project team, start-ups could be the answer.

There have of course been numerous examples of start-ups disrupting an industry or creating an entirely new segment. Think of WhatsApp impact on the world of messaging or Netflix on content delivery, though navigating the waters of the telco industry can be a rough ride for start-ups. Few achieve the recognition their ideas deserve, possibly to the detriment of the industry.

“If the big players would buy them [start-ups] at a time when there is a product and they acquire them not to kill the product it would be okay,” said Axel Clauberg, VP of IP End to End & Infrastructure Cloud at Deutsche Telekom and Chairman of the Board at TIP. “We saw a couple of positive examples where it happened in the past, however many good ideas just don’t make it to that stage because when people start running a company and want to get funding by approaching a venture capitalist, suggesting their market is telco, the answer is no, sorry.”

“We were routinely being approached by start-ups who had really innovative ideas, but they were running out of money really quickly,” said Aaron Bernstein, Director, Connectivity Ecosystem Programs at Facebook and a TIP Board Member. “It was impossible for them to get the attention of VCs, and it really comes down to how do they go from zero to dollars as quickly as possible. That is what led to the creation of the TIP Ecosystem Accelerator Centre programme. How do we connect VCs who are interested in infrastructure with start-ups and operators who can create the idea of coaching to get them from zero to dollars much quicker.”

The TIP Ecosystem Acceleration Centre (TEAC) programme is an initiative which looks to creative the wrongs of telco life and bring new innovation into the fray. Several of the world’s largest Telecom Service Providers are hosting TEACs in the UK (BT), Paris (Orange), Seoul (SK Telecom) and Germany (DT), with the aim of creating breakthrough technologies that reimagine telecom infrastructure. TIP is an initiative which is all about doing something different to stimulate innovation, and accessing untapped ideas in the start-ups is certainly one way to go about.

Whether it is the procurement cycle, the cut-throat nature of acquisition or simply running out of funds, gaining traction in the telco world is an incredibly difficult task for start-ups. Perhaps this is the reason the industry moves at such a sluggish pace compared to the internet players of Silicon Valley who embrace the concept of start-ups, but for a healthier ecosystem, all ideas need to be taken into account.

For the moment, the TEACs are small scale, but every idea has to start somewhere. Start-ups could be the saving grace the telco world needs to stimulate innovation and recapture lost revenues, but the ecosystem has to change to embrace them.

A simple explanation of TIP – making connectivity cheaper

The Telecom Infra Project has gotten a huge amount of attention since its launch, mainly due to the Facebook brand, but why is it so important? It’s all about bringing connectivity to everyone, equally.

This might sound like PR propaganda, but it is true. Facebook wants to make sure connectivity is fair and equal for everyone in the world, ensuring the digital lifestyle extends beyond developed nations and into the ignored territories. Like the army of Mormons spreading the word of Joseph Smith, Facebook is attempting to spread its own form of enlightenment; connectivity.

Again, this might sound like a corporate giant trying to cover up nefarious objectives with a light and fluffy initiative but this is a genuine mission. It does have a tie back to the profit and loss column for Facebook, but what do you expect, Mark Zuckerberg is not the CEO of a charity.

In the simplest of terms, there are two objectives for TIP. Firstly, decouple hardware and software to bring down the price of connectivity infrastructure. This will, in theory, accelerate the rollout of said infrastructure into the regions were ROI has been hard to find. Secondly, open up black boxes in developed markets to improve the quality of connectivity. Both of these objectives are about improving the experience of the internet for all, providing an equal connectivity experience for the masses.

“We need to innovate at the speed of software upgrades not hardware replacement cycles,” said Telefonica’s David Del Val Latorre, one of the TIP Board members.

It does sound too good to be true, but you have to understand the Facebook business model. Unlike it neighbours in Silicon Valley, Facebook has not been the most successful when it comes to diversification. Almost every dollar flowing back to Zuckerberg’s piggy back is derived from the walled garden advertising business model. Facebook captures the audience on its platform, and then charges third-parties to access them. It is an incredibly successful business model, but it has its limitations; you can only serve so many adverts to one person. For Facebook’s rise to continue, new users need to be found.

Facebook’s Next Billion Users initiative is a perfect example of this. With developing markets approaching an advertising glass ceiling, new users need to be found to fuel the advertising machine. For this to happen, connectivity infrastructure needs to be rolled out into the regions where it isn’t. To tackle these tough environments and regions of low-ARPU, new connectivity solutions need to be developed to offer the telcos ROI. Hence TIP.

Of course Facebook is not on its own. Del Val Latorre is leading the TIP and Telefonica efforts to being OpenRAN to South America and connect an additional 100 million customers. Vodafone is doing the same in India and claims to be able to lower TCO by 30% for certain projects. There are now nine community labs around the world, including two in Brazil, and an additional seven field projects. Deutsche Telekom is running its own project in Hungary. Even Nokia has a member on the board, despite the TIP mission destroying part of its own business model. Ericsson isn’t a member though…

Of course, “this is not a Facebook thing, we are one member,” Jay Parikh, Head of Engineering and Infrastructure at Facebook, reminded the audience.

The TIP mission statement might sound like something out of a cheesy PR playbook, and this might be the case, but it is being genuine.

DT writes €20bn cheque to target 99% 5G coverage by 2021

Deutsche Telekom has unveiled a ‘plan’ to make 5G a reality, including a commitment to spend €20 billion by the end of 2021 to roll it out.

Should the plan prove to be a success, DT plans to have 5G to 99% of the population by 2025, while geographical coverage would be 90%. The team believe these coverage ambitions are achievable for 4G by 2021.

“The digitalization of Germany is a challenge for our society as a whole,” said CEO Tim Höttges. “Our part is the networks. We take this responsibility seriously, which is why we are focusing on investment, innovation, and partnerships.”

To fuel the 5G ambition, DT has connected 22,000 of the 27,000 mobile base stations with fiber, and will be adding at least 2,000 each year through to 2021 to take the total up to 36,000. Not all of these stations will be equipped with 5G equipment to start with, though this is a part of the plan which is murkier. The less details available, the less accountable DT becomes we suppose.

5G is only part of the connectivity plan, with the fixed network getting its own upgrades. One of the first aspects of the plan is to initially install fiber to the curb, before extending the fiber to the home at a later date. This approach has been criticised, though DT has pointed out it is a fairer means to improve connectivity for a greater number of residents across the country.

“Of course we could have installed fiber to the home directly, but due to the shortage of underground construction capacity and the high investments needed, we’d only be serving 20% of households at most, instead of the 80% we do now,” said Walter Goldenits, CTO at Telekom Deutschland.

Progress is being made in Germany, the team have laid the 500,000th kilometre of fiber across the country this week, though it does still lag behind leaders in the European market. DT claims 250 Mbps are already available to around ten million households, while the ambition is to expand this footprint to 28 million by the end of 2019.

UK operators want local authorities to be more helpful on infrastructure

Mobile UK has very courteously pointed the finger at local authorities as a bottle-neck in the rollout of infrastructure which will fuel the digital economy.

In a new report, released as part of the ‘Building Mobile Britain’ campaign, the lobby group representing EE, Three, Vodafone and O2 has suggested local authorities should be doing more. The lobbyist does not go as far as to criticise the authorities, but a patronising checklist at the end of the report prods the town-hall dwelling public servants in the right direction.

“Building Mobile Britain relies on strong partnerships and local Government has a vital role to play in delivering this goal,” said Gareth Elliott, Head of Policy and Communications at Mobile UK. “Our report, Councils and Connectivity, outlines how proactive local government leadership, planning and the sharing of ideas can enable and unlock opportunities to achieving a world-class connected economy.”

We are not surprised the under-funded and under-staffed local authorities could be considered as a hurdle by the telco industry. In the world of local politics everything is critically important and nothing gets enough attention, though there are a few valid points made.

Firstly, taking a proactive approach. This is the first suggestion by the lobbyists, creating a senior management position or committee which oversees how mobile is being addressed in the authority. This position or committee would be responsible for ensuring the foundations for connectivity are built into all other activities at the authority. This should be viewed as a critical component of local government as the benefits of the digital economy need to be appreciated at every level of bureaucracy in the UK.

There are of course examples of authorities who are embracing the digital revolution, Peterborough or Milton Keynes are two excellent examples, though the mediocrity or sluggishness of other councils will only create another digital divide across the UK. The creation of champions internally will facilitate a proactive approach to connectivity.

This also ties into the second point; planning for the long-term. Embedding mobile plans into local economic development initiatives should be seen as a basic requirement nowadays, and there are plenty of lessons to be learnt from the broadband rollout over the last few years according to Mobile UK.

The final point is about collaboration. The mobile industry is not the enemy, and while this report is perhaps a shallow attempt to cover up the capitalist ambitions of the telcos, the end result should not be undervalued. People want mobile connectivity as it is a critical component of almost every aspect of our lives from communication to entertainment and daily functions such as banking. The mobile industry might be pushing for change to generate profits, but the reasoning is irrelevant when the citizens want exactly the same end result; greater coverage.

The point of the report seems to be a passive-aggressive nudge to the local authorities, and we tend to agree. Mobile connectivity is a relatively new topic for Local Authorities to consider, and experience suggests these bodies are not the quickest off the mark. That said, it is a critical component of our lives, businesses, public services and the future economy. If Local Authorities are not taking a proactive approach, like Peterborough or Milton Keynes, a new digital divide will be created.

Government research suggests digital divide plans might actually be working

When you compare the digital divide to other countries around the world, it looks like nothing more than a minor crack in the UK. That said, it is still there and new research suggests it is getting smaller.

Before you give the mish-mash-of-no-one-wants-jobs Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport too much credit, you have to bear in mind this is research which has been funded and influenced by the department itself. That said, government initiatives do seem to have spurred on the lethargic Openreach/BT into action in the countryside taking the number of households which are able to access superfast broadband across the UK to 95.39%.

“Our rollout of superfast broadband across the UK has been the most challenging infrastructure project in a generation but is one of our greatest successes,” said Minister for Digital, Margot James. “We are reaching thousands more homes and businesses every week, that can now reap the clear and tangible benefits that superfast broadband provides. We are helping to ensure the downfall of the digital divide.”

In terms of closing the digital divide, it is worth reminding ourselves every now and then what this actually means. It is more than simply cat videos streaming faster than a laser pointer on the carpet, but accessibility to education and employment opportunities. With businesses increasingly reliant on the internet for everyday processes such as cloud-based services and infrastructure, connectivity decides whether a company opens up an office in one place or another, or the competitiveness of a regional. Functional companies create jobs, which dominos success throughout the local economy.

The initiative was first launched 2010/11 in response to concerns commercial deployment of superfast broadband would fail to reach areas which were not deemed commercially attractive. Backed by £530 million of subsidies (and an additional £250 in 2015), telcos were enticed to rollout out relevant infrastructure, though early years were plagued with claims BT was rebuilding its monopoly with public funds as it won the majority of early contracts. While the criticism of BT’s dominance continues to be an issue for some, it is worth noting £500 million in subsidies has been returned to the public purse due to uptake being higher than expected.

In terms of the impact on local firms, the report estimates postcodes benefitting from subsidised coverage saw employment rise by 0.8% and turnover grow by 1.2% in response to improved infrastructure. This has resulted in an additional 49,000 jobs for local economies, plus an additional £9 billion in annual revenues. When looking at productivity gains, better connectivity essentially means each employee makes an additional £1,390 per year on average for the firm.

Government Table One

As you can see from the tables above, the ‘other’ regions are still growing at a faster rate, though you have to question how big the digital divide would be today without the telcos being ‘encouraged’ to invest in rural areas with government subsidies. Growth is a positive, as it would be a fair assumption the statistics would be in decline without improved connectivity.

Education and health and social work were the sectors which really benefited here (worker turnover increased 4.7% and 3.7% respectively), though subsidised coverage raised turnover per worker in the manufacturing sector by around 0.8%. With improved connectivity now in place in the manufacturing space the opportunity to demonstrate further benefits through IoT and smart-factory environments is much more apparent. The manufacturing segment might be a slow-burner with the next wave of technological advancements proving to be the gamechanger.

With a benefit to cost ratio of £1.96 per £1 of gross public sector spending, it is difficult to argue with the success here. Yes, the numbers could be better, though as the report states the net benefits of the programme does not include any value associated with the future use of the infrastructure, you could conclude the value has been considerably underplayed. Governments do not often earn plaudits, but this does genuinely seem like an initiative which has been well managed, delivering on the stated promises.

Work is not complete on closing the digital divide, the South West for instance is still underserved for example, though it is difficult to argue that the government hasn’t done a bad job overall.

Smart home is $11.2bn opportunity, but are the telcos ready for it?

ABI Research estimates the smart home segment could potentially be worth in the region of $11.2 billion by 2022, but the diversification question still remains for the telcos.

The smart home is a concept which has been on the horizon for some time, we’ve been debating the merits of talking fridges for years, but until recently it has perhaps been little more than a gimmick. The advantages of the expensive upgrades were limited, and in all honesty, there seem like little point in connecting your toilet to the internet. That said, during the last 12-18 months applications and services have started to appear to make the prospect genuinely interesting. And we’re talking about more than just connecting your bog.

This seems to be the point of the ABI Research note, the consumer is starting to welcome the idea of the smart home. AI-powered products are becoming more the norm off the shelf, while the concept of the data-sharing economy is no-longer a baffling idea. But are the telcos ready for this evolution?

“CSPs are being threatened in a market increasingly driven by the likes of Google and Amazon with a range of products and services from AI-powered smart home voice control smart speakers to security solutions,” said Pablo Tomasi Senior Analyst at ABI Research.

“But things are changing and CSPs are accelerating their strategies for the smart home. Telefonica with Aura, Orange with Djingo, and SK Telecom with Nugu lead the way of CSPs developing AI assistant to support their smart home play. Now is the time for CSPs to be more aggressive in tying the usage of their AI assistants to their other connected and smart home offerings.”

The smart home will also offer a small opportunity for the telcos, all of these devices will have to be powered by the internet, therefore those who are happy with the utility tag can sit back and wait for the trend to kick-in. However, for telcos who want to diversify revenue streams and interact with the consumer in a more meaningful manner, they will have to demonstrate they are capable of competing with some of the most innovative companies on the planet.

A platform approach is one way in which this can be done, with telcos favouring the ‘freemium’ model over the traditional ‘bundled services’ option, according to ABI. By creating an extensive and varied ecosystem, and leveraging current assets all around the home (connectivity, content delivery, etc.) and emerging concepts such as monitored security, the telcos have a wider reach than others attempting to capitalise on the smart home enthusiasm.

The issue here is timing. As with any hype curve, getting in ahead of competitors is critical. There was an opportunity to act as the middle man between the consumer and the manufacturers of smart home devices, leveraging the excellent relationship telcos have developed, though this is still a distinct possibility.

Research from consultancy firm EY suggests consumers are not settled on where they would like to purchase their smart home devices from. Broadband providers proved to be the most popular choice, at 19%, but tech websites were a popular choice on 18%, while going direct to the specialist manufacturer was as well on 17%. Utility providers collected 15% and household appliance manufacturers took 13%. 11% choosing smart phone manufacturers is encouraging for that segment, though MNOs only took 4%. Variety is important right now, as it demonstrates there is still an opportunity for someone to take a strangle hold of this relationship with the consumer.

The potential for the smart home is massive, and this potential will only become bigger as the voice user interface becomes more commonplace. The important factor here is to take a risk and secure a leadership position. With the emergence of the connected and sharing economy a couple of years ago, the telcos took a backseat and suffered because of it. They sit at the bottom of the totem pole waiting for the crumbs to fall down, largely collecting revenues from connectivity alone.

The smart home is an opportunity for mistakes of yesteryear to be corrected.

CityFibre research says UK is doing terrible job at connectivity

Research commissioned by serial-moaner and sh*t-stirrer CityFibre claims the UK is falling way back in the connectivity ranks, with broadband slower than on Madagascar.

We strongly suspect the wording of the research twisted certain perspectives and answers, CityFibre does of course gain from frowns directed at the mainstream telcos, but it is not difficult to believe the statistics. The research suggests the UK ranks 35th in the world for broadband speeds, as the country still relies too much on copper infrastructure instead of the futuristic fibre alternative.

“For too long the UK has been held back by a deliberate lack of investment by BT Openreach in fibre infrastructure,” said Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre. “Although companies like CityFibre are building the networks that will give millions of homes and businesses access to full fibre broadband, providers continuing to advertise copper-based connections as ‘fibre’ is leaving people completely confused about what is on offer.

“With the way we work increasingly blending our home and work lives, it has never been more important for people to understand what broadband connection they really get at home.”

Looking at the research statistics, 78% of the respondents feel slowed down and frustrated by their internet connection, a number which increases to 82% with homeworkers. Again, these figures will have been twisted by the working of the questions, but as a homeworker your correspondent can confirm this is an issue. 99% of those who work from agree a faster internet connection would be more beneficial to their working lives.

The benefits of working from home are clear, though connectivity barriers are starting to become more apparent. The intensity of work programmes will soon get to a point where copper based infrastructure becomes more than a hindrance. Unfortunately for the UK, fewer than 4% of homes currently have a fibre connection, and that is using statistics from the government’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR). This 4% compares to 71% of homes in Spain and 89% of homes in Portugal.

The extremity of what CityFibre is saying should be taken with a pinch of salt, the picture of Coppersaurus is a prime example of trolling behaviour from the telco, but it is not wrong. The UK is falling behind, and while the FTIR does look promising, now is the time for action not more investigations. As Matthew Howett of Assembly said at this years Connected Britain event:

“If you could rollout out connectivity through reports and investigations, Britain would have faster broadband than Japan and Korea.”

MWC Shanghai: GSMA takes another swipe at regulators

Bemoaning regulators has become common place in the telecommunications industry, but that hasn’t stopped the GSMA having another dig at the world’s boresome bureaucrats.

5G is on the horizon, and fulfilling the bold promises made by the industry is going to be an expensive job. For the digital world to be as glorious as we have imagined, or have been told to imagine, there need to be some changes on the regulatory front. Or at least that was the message which came across this morning during the opening keynotes at Mobile World Congress Shanghai.

“We cannot move forward without regulatory support,” said Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman of both Bharti Enterprises and the GSMA.

Of course it should not be a surprise Mittal is preaching for regulatory reform. He is the Chairman of Bharti Enterprises and the GSMA, therefore any changes which would benefit members, and his own organization, would certainly be top of the agenda for Mittal. But this is a message we are starting to hear far too often; the regulatory environment is not suitable for a sustainable industry.

Harmonised spectrum is one aspect which will be addressed in the near future, but another elephant in the room is the affordability of this valuable asset. Dependent on where you are in the world, the approach is very different.

Looking at the Asian markets, in particular China, Mittal suggested the regulators were basically giving the spectrum away for free. While this is somewhat of an exaggeration, comparatively to the Western markets, it is not far off the mark. The theory here is the less operators are paying for spectrum licenses, the more can be spent on actual deployment.

“In the Western world, way too much money is being spent on spectrum,” said Mittal. “It’s the wrong way around. No wonder China is the leading country to provide mobile connectivity to its customers.”

Cynical individuals might frown upon this assumption, pointing towards profit-mad, penny pinching executives as the reason for substandard infrastructure, but you can’t argue with the results. China arguably leads the way when it comes to network deployment, and is one of the leading lights in the 5G world. There are numerous factors to take into account, but you can’t ignore the affordability of spectrum as one of them.

Another to condemn the regulatory environment was GSMA Director General Mats Granryd. This should hardly come as a surprise also, but change is needed to facilitate the deployment of futureproof networks. The timely release of harmonised spectrum is next on the agenda, though new policies to encourage investment should be prioritised, as well as reform to level the playing field for telcos when it comes to digital services, and finally, a long, hard look at privacy policies. Regulators might be patting themselves on the back constantly, but for Granryd, there is still much work to do.

This is of course not a new complaint from the GSMA, but eventually something will have to be done. If you call a man a horse once, he’ll probably ignore you, the second time he will cuss you, the third might be a prompt to buy a saddle. Sooner or later, regulators are going to have to address the chorus of voices condemning the regulatory landscape.