Developing nations vital to wireless broadband

2011-10-31 10:22

Cape Town - Developing nations are critical to the expansion of wireless broadband development, the international standards body has said.

"For us, developing nations represent a very important segment which fits very much into our ethos of building economies of scale," Adrian Scrase, Head of Mobile Competence Centre 3GPP told News24.

"It's only by building very large economies of scale that developing nations can really profit from our work," he added.

Some companies focus on high-end consumer communication devices, while others have a multi-pronged strategy, but new technology is often much more expensive to implement.

Scrase said that cost was a key issue in the rollout of wireless infrastructure as well as devices.


"If we look at a very strong request from India to have low cost handsets, for example. That was really only possible because of scaling.

"We are trying to build communities around a common standard and to develop that standard to such a scale where the costs would inevitably reduce and be affordable to developing nations," he said.

Many mobile users have blasted operators for a lack of high-speed wireless broadband service to access rich media like video effectively.

In several African countries including South Africa, wireless internet access has been the standard through which the majority of users surf the web.

"There are various impediments to rolling out a service. No operator is going to roll out a service unless there is a very clear business plan. They have to make a profit - they're not running as charities," Scrase said.

While the organisation may hold views on the corrupt auctions of spectrum that has dogged the industry in some countries, notably in Asia, Scrase insisted that it was beyond the scope of the organisation to direct countries on how to proceed.

"That would be outside of our agreement. We may hold very strong views about the behaviour, but it would be improper for us to try and influence to government the issue of selling spectrum.

"We can sympathise certainly in those countries where the auctions have been held very very late, so operators who want to launch have been denied access to the market."

Evolutionary pathways

There is debate about which next standard of wireless broadband a country should adopt, but Scrase said that his organisation had provided many evolutionary pathways to make adoption accessible.

"There is no single answer to that. The choice of whether you evolve your existing HSPA network to HSPA+, whether you evolve to LTE or LTE-Advanced. If you're WiMax, whether you jump to the LTE stream. It depends very much on local conditions.

"As a standards body, we have to provide all possibilities for all players. If you want to stay with your existing technology, there is an evolution path there for several years."

Regardless of which standard is adopted in a particular country though, operators would have to invest substantial amounts into their networks.

"Every operator understands that they have to invest in their networks even if they stay with their existing technology. For example, HSPA to HSPA+, that doesn't come for free," said Scrase.

He said that wireless networks should be developed together with cable broadband systems because as more users accessed the wireless system, there would inevitably be congestion that would hamper the network.


Potentially, the flood of smartphones expected could cause an exponential increase in data on mobile networks in an environment where consumers are expecting further reduction in costs and increases in speed.

Scrase suggested that wireless and fixed system complement each other.

"I think there is this need to develop both the wireless and the fixed networks in parallel so you can then offload from wireless to fixed when it's appropriate to do so."

Scrase will be speaking at the AfricaComm conference on mobile technology to be held in Cape Town from November 9 - 10.

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