Trump set sights on spectrum strategy

US President Donald Trump has unveiled plans to create a National Spectrum Strategy to prepare the country prepare for the introduction of 5G wireless networks.

The presidential memorandum, which was signed last week, directs the Secretary of Commerce to work with agencies and policy makers on all levels to develop a National Spectrum Strategy. As part of the strategy, the Secretary of the department will report annually to the President on efforts to repurpose spectrum, while a Spectrum Strategy Task Force will also be created which, including representatives from the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the National Security Council, the National Space Council, and the Council of Economic Advisers.

“American companies and institutions rely heavily on high-speed wireless connections, with increasing demands on both speed and capacity,” the memorandum states. “Wireless technologies are helping to bring broadband to rural, unserved, and underserved parts of America. Spectrum-dependent systems also are indispensable to the performance of many important United States Government missions. And as a Nation, our dependence on these airwaves is likely to continue to grow.”

Within 180 days, executive departments and agencies are required to report to the Secretary of Commerce on their anticipated future spectrum requirements, while the OSTP shall submit a report to the President on emerging technologies and the expected impact on spectrum demand. Once these reports have been submitted and assessed, the Secretary of Commerce will have to brief the White House on the status of existing efforts and planned near- to mid-term spectrum repurposing initiatives, as well as a long-term National Spectrum Strategy that includes legislative, regulatory, or other policy recommendations to rework the approach to spectrum management.

While work on spectrum has been underway for some time, this intervention from the White House demonstrates the importance of 5G to the US economy, and perhaps its long-standing battle with the Chinese to maintain control of the global economy.  Although Silicon Valley still maintains the leadership position on the worldwide technology and telecommunications industry, this grip is not quite as ironclad as it was in previous years. With digital taking over in the cockpit as the driver for almost every ‘developed’ economy around the world, a flexible, future-proofed spectrum policy is critical.

“We commend the administration for recognizing the importance of establishing a national spectrum strategy,” said CTIA President Meredith Baker. “With the right approach based on licensed wireless spectrum, America’s wireless carriers will invest hundreds of billions of dollars and create millions of jobs to deploy next-generation networks and win the global 5G race.”

“Spectrum has become one of the most critical inputs for the communications and information technologies that are driving America’s economic growth,” a statement from the NCTA reads. “The services that rely on unlicensed spectrum alone generated more than $525 billion in value for the U.S. economy in 2017. We look forward to engaging in constructive dialogue with the White House, NTIA, and the FCC on the development of a balanced national spectrum policy that will meet the growing need for both licensed and unlicensed spectrum to support next-generation wireless technologies.”

The attention from the White House will certainly be welcomed by the industry, though some have questioned why it has taken so long. With the Trump administration focusing on other areas, in particular looking outwards, some critics have questioned why it has taken so long for the White House to take a firm position in the 5G world. Democrat FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel is one who has questioned the sluggish nature of the administration, particularly focused on reports and action, suggesting it has allowed other countries such as China and Korea to steal valuable yards in the 5G race.

While specifics are relatively thin for the moment, the spectrum strategy might go some way to settle bickering in the industry. A good example is the battle between the autonomous vehicles camp, which is currently guarding largely unused spectrum reserved to allow vehicles to communicate, and telcos who want the assets opened up for wifi. This is only one example, but without a comprehensive, forward-looking, strategy in place, these arguments will not be settled.

Such a policy will provide much needed clarity in the industry, though six months is a long-time to wait with the 5G world fast approaching.

Indian government greenlights plan to increase broadband penetration

While Reliance Jio has been ripping up the rulebook, causing chaos in the Indian mobile market, some might be surprised to hear broadband penetration is still less than 10%.

Accessibility has long been an issue in India, from a mobile perspective Jio seems to have addressed this issue, though broadband remains an challenge. According to the latest subscription figures from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), there are currently 22.2 million broadband subscriptions in the country, compared to roughly 250 million households. This is one of the discrepancies being addressed by the National Digital Communications Policy – 2018.

According to the Indian Express, the government has officially given the green light for the policy, which aims to attract $100 billion investment and create an additional four million jobs in the digital communications sector. The ambitions and targets are certainly bold, though momentum is certainly with India.

In terms of the top-line objectives, there are six; provisioning broadband for all; creating the four million jobs; increasing the percentage digital communications contributes to GDP from 6% to 8%; taking India into the top 50 places in the ICT Development Index of ITU; ensuring digital sovereignty; enhancing India’s global contribution to the digital economy.

Looking specifically at the broadband side of things, by 2022 the Indian government hopes to enable fixed line broadband access to 50% of households across the country, 100 Mbps broadband on demand to all key development institutions, provide 10 Gbps connectivity to all Gram Panchayats of India. These ambitions will be realised through creating a ‘fibre first’ initiative, promoting collaboration models involving state, local bodies and private sector, as well as incentivising and promoting fibre connectivity for all new developmental construction.

The telcos will surely be rubbing their hands together in anticipation of the opportunity. Fixed broadband infrastructure is an expensive game, though love and care from the government, as well as subsidies and potential tax benefits, will certainly offer opportunity to deploy infrastructure, new customers and revenues. Over the next couple of months, the government will aim to create a National Digital Grid, through the establishment of the National Fibre Authority, building Common Service Ducts and utility corridors, facilitating development of Open Access Next Generation Networks, as well as standardising costs and timelines.

Broadband offers a significant opportunity for the telcos who have seen profit margins decimated by the entry of Reliance Jio. With such low broadband penetration, the land grab for customers will be a vicious one, though with higher ARPU the rewards are quite clear.

From a global perspective, increased broadband penetration will certainly offer India a greater opportunity to play a more notable role in the global marketplace. This is looking at the global question outwardly; there will be a number of international businesses keeping an eye on developments here. Should broadband accessibility increase, companies like Netflix will almost certainly be lining up new products and tariffs. This in turn will stimulate the Indian creative industry, as a cornerstone of the Netflix strategy is to create local content.

The mobile revolution kicked off by Jio’s disruptive pricing proved to be a catalyst for India in the international digital economy, though increasing broadband accessibility and penetration could have the same impact. India has been an interesting market over the last 12-18 months, and with broadband now being addressed, it has recaptured our attention.