ITU says lower prices don’t lead to higher internet penetration

The UN telecoms agency observes that, while global connectivity prices are going down, the relationship with penetration is not as inversely proportion as you might think.

An International Telecommunication Union analysis of mobile and fixed connectivity has found that prices are decreasing, on average, across the world. Disappointingly for the agency, since lowering prices is one of its big things, this trend is not translating into rapidly increasing internet penetration rates. So it looks like there are other factors involved, such as quality of service, level of education and lack of localised content.

In spite of that, the ITU seems to be sticking with its price narrative. “Keeping telecommunication and digital services as affordable as possible has always been important to ensure broader Internet uptake, especially for lower-income households and consumers,” said Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General. “In the face of COVID-19, this is more vital than ever. People who do not have access to the Internet may not be able to access information about how to protect themselves from coronavirus, telework, learn remotely and connect with families and friends during quarantine.”

“The COVID-19 crisis has clearly shown us that nobody is safe until we are all safe,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director, ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (has it?). “By the same token, we will not be able to use the full potential of digital technologies until we are all connected. To connect all, we need to address all factors that may prevent meaningful connectivity.”

It’s not clear what the ITU top brass is getting at, other than to vaguely imply that it’s really important to have agencies like the ITU. If you fancy a bit of light reading to see you through the lockdown, you can download the 178-page report here. Universal connectivity is desirable but not essential and some parts of the world may feel there are matters in more pressing need of their scarce funds.

ITU creates best practice sharing tool as worldwide networks hold strong

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), has created a new mechanism to educate authorities on how to improve network resilience and maintain performance during this difficult period.

The new platform will aim to share best practices and initiatives to improve the performance of networks as traffic increases due to increased number of home workers and children staying home from work. This is an opportunity for authorities to learn from what is being done elsewhere from emergency spectrum reassignments to guidelines for consumers on responsible use.

“The platform ITU is launching today aims to assist national policy makers, regulators and industry stakeholders to ensure that networks are kept resilient and telecommunication services are available to all to the maximum extent possible by sharing best practices and initiatives put in place during the COVID-19 crisis,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao.

“It will collect relevant and trustworthy information and expertise on actions that telecommunication policy makers, regulators and others in the regulatory community can use to ensure that their telecommunication networks and services serve the needs of their country.”

Prior to this announcement, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) set up a very similar mechanism for members of the European Union. This announcement coincided with calls for Netflix to downgrade performance from High-definition (HD) to Standard-definition (SD) to ease congestion on the networks as more consumers search for entertainment during the lockdown.

Since the request to the streaming giants, the majority have suggested they would introduce measures to ensure their services do not add to congestion too severely, while Facebook has also said it would follow suit with its own social networking platforms.

Although this seems to be a precautionary measure from the ITU, it does appear networks around the world are managing the increased internet traffic during off-peak hours effectively.

In Italy, Telecom Italia CEO Luigi Gubitosi suggested traffic had increased by 70% in the Lombardy region, partly thanks to increased usage of online games such as Fortnite and Call of Duty, though there have been few reports that network performance has suffered.

The South Korean ICT Ministry released a report to suggest internet traffic had increased 13% over the course of March, though the networks are standing up to the strain, while in Hungary, the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH) released a similar statement claiming confidence.

Over in the US, the FCC granted requests from AT&T and Verizon for Special Temporary Authority to use additional spectrum, though Chairman Ajit Pai is confident in the resilience of the networks:

“We have been encouraged by the feedback we have received so far both regarding the ability of their networks to handle changes in usage patterns caused by the coronavirus outbreak and how networks are performing so far,” Pai said in a statement.

UK telco BT went as far as releasing facts and figures to alleviate concerns. The network has seen a surge in traffic of 35-60%, peaking at 7.5 Tbps, though this is still well below the historical peak of 17.5 Tbps driven by videogame updates and streaming football. Virgin Media has also said traffic is up 50% over its broadband network, though it is still comfortably below what it would expect in peak hours.

These two statements are very important for UK confidence as combined BT’s Openreach and Virgin Media’s network are responsible for at least 93% (Omdia World Information Series, accurate to 2019-end) of the broadband connections across the market.

The initiative from the ITU is certainly one which should be welcomed by the industry, more information is better in these unprecedented times, but what should always be worth bearing in mind is that the networks are standing up to the pressure.

IRU WRC-19 earmarks some more high frequency spectrum for 5G

After a month of working on their tans in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, the global telecoms community has identified a bunch more spectrum it wants to dedicate to 5G.

The latest ITU World Radiocommunication Conference inevitably had 5G as a major theme. The point of the event is to get global consensus on certain telecoms matters and spectrum harmonisation if often high on the list. If different parts of the world use different spectrum for mobile then it makes roaming a massive hassle and drives up the cost of components, so it’s important to get global agreement on this stuff.

So one of the most significant developments was the identification of s bunch more high frequency spectrum that everyone agreed should be set aside for 5G use. Specifically we’re talking about the 24.25-27.5 GHz, 37-43.5 GHz, 45.5-47 GHz, 47.2-48.2 and 66-71 GHz bands.

“The hard won agreements at WRC-19 will favourably impact the lives of billions of people around the world, creating a digital landscape for sustainable growth and development,” said Mr Mario Maniewicz, Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau. “The achievements of WRC-19 in enabling new communication technologies and the protection of existing services will be reflected in the continuous growth of the trillion dollar telecommunication and ICT industry.”

“WRC-19 has brought the mobile industry a step closer to making the full power of 5G something everyone can experience,” said Mats Granryd, Director General, GSMA. “Countries struck the right balance in opening up groundbreaking possibilities for 5G while protecting existing radio services worldwide. The mobile industry’s goal going into WRC-19 was to identify enough 5G spectrum to deliver long-lasting socio-economic benefits. WRC-19 delivered on this goal, and also secured a pathway to 5G’s future success in the agenda for WRC-23.”

“Spectrum regulators have recognized that low, mid and high-band frequencies need to be available and harmonised globally as much as is possible to ensure mobile broadband can meet the expanding services both industry and consumers are expecting in the coming years,” said Joe Barrett, President of GSA. “Today’s decision is a significant and welcome step in ensuring the transformational power of 5G can be fully realised in every market around the world.”

How much use all this very high frequency will be remains to be seen. You have to almost be sat on top of the base station to receive it and the global rollout of the zillions of small cells that would be required to make use of it is not off to a flying start. Still it’s nice to know that when we do eventually find an efficient way to make use of it there will be plenty of spectrum to go round.