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With cell phone network congestion set to worsen, UN urges rapid broadband growth

Photo: ITU/V. Martin
ITU/V. Martin
Photo: ITU/V. Martin

With cell phone network congestion set to worsen, UN urges rapid broadband growth

With smartphones already consuming five times more data capacity than ordinary mobile phones and their number set to soar from 500 million today to nearly 2 billion by 2015, broadband growth is vital not just for developing countries but for the world’s most advanced nations too, a senior United Nations communication official warned today.

“Mobile operators have been investing billions to upgrade and improve the capacity and performance of their networks, but in some high-usage cities, such as San Francisco, New York and London, we are still seeing users frustrated by chronic problems of network unavailability,” UN International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré said.

“Robust national broadband plans that promote extra spectrum and the faster roll-out of the fibre networks which are essential to mobile backhaul are vital to support the growing number of data-intensive applications.”

Mobile broadband is increasingly the technology of choice for hundreds of millions in the developing world, where fixed line infrastructure is often sparse and expensive to deploy. ITU estimates that the number of mobile broadband subscriptions will reach 1 billion in the first quarter of 2011.

With 90 per cent of the world now covered by a mobile signal, it is clear that mobile is a key tool to bridging the digital divide, the agency said in a news release, noting that by 2010, 73 per cent of total mobile cellular subscriptions were from the developing world. With network congestion set to worsen, an international broadband commitment is crucial now to prevent an even graver situation, it added.

ITU analysis shows 98 countries have national broadband plans in place, with this number set to increase over the next year. In 2010, Mr. Touré helped create the Broadband Commission for Digital Development to highlight the need for governments worldwide to promote broadband as a key development tool and to push broadband network roll-out more proactively.

The Commission’s report, delivered to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last September, recommended that world leaders focus on building a “virtuous broadband development dynamic,” urging Governments not to limit market entry nor tax broadband and related services too heavily, and to ensure ample availability of spectrum to support mobile broadband growth.

In anticipation of ITU’s next World Radiocommunication Conference in January 2012, operators in Europe and the United States have already begun campaigning for increased spectrum for mobile communications, and for harmonized spectrum allocations in contiguous blocks for latest-generation technologies. Operators from other regions seem certain to follow suit, as new high-revenue-generating mobile broadband services like mobile TV take off worldwide.

The conference, held every three to four years, is the global body which negotiates and manages the binding international treaty governing spectrum allocation. Coming at a critical juncture in the future growth of the sector, the 2012 event is expected to welcome over 2,500 senior delegates from around the world.