Internet Access: "We've Gotten the Easy Ones"
Lower-cost new networks, better business models and creating more usable spectrum to “connect everyone across South Asia and Southeast Asia to the Internet” were key themes at the Spectrum Futures conference held in Singapore, Oct 20 and 21, 2016.
Creating sustainable business models--as always--was a key focus.
“We have gotten the easy ones,” said Chris Weasler, Facebook director of global connectivity. So connecting the next couple few billion users will be challenging.
Speakers included communications regulators from Egypt on the west to Indonesia on the east; Internet service providers; app providers and enablers; venture capitalists; wholesale capacity partners; policy advocates and platform developers.
New ways of supplying and using spectrum; new models for deploying infrastructure and new ways to reduce the cost of Internet access facilities were discussed. New business models also were highlighted. “5G is completely different,” said Bob Horton, consultant.
Will huge new allocations of millimeter wave frequencies for 5G work? Simple answer, “yes,” said Reza Arefi, Intel director of spectrum strategy. Are infrastructure costs coming down? “By an order of magnitude,” said community networking specialist Jonathan Brewer.
Are regulator and industry expectations out of alignment? “Yes,” said Mohammed Shafi, Multinet Pakistan CEO. Is much more spectrum required? Without question, said Rajan Mathews, Cellular Operators Association of India director general.
Are there still big cultural gaps between service providers and app providers who can help access providers move up the value chain? Yes, said VC Dennis Wong, with Golden Gate Capital.
Telcos and app developers “speak a different (business) language,” said consultant Srinath V. So telcos should invest in app providers “as limited partners,” said Kenrick Drijkoningen, Golden Gate Ventures expert in residence.
Major work on business models also is necessary, argued James Sullivan, J.P. Morgan equities analyst.
“Even after accounting for Wi-Fi and new technologies and alternate business models, there will be still significant global wireless data demand that is not economically possible to serve,” said Sullivan. Simply, emerging markets “ don’t have nearly enough revenue opportunity to bridge the gap.”
Attendees learned about a number of initiatives, large and small, to bring lower cost Internet access efforts to bear, ranging from the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) to community-owned cellular.
TIP in an open source telecom platform effort presently supported by 300 organizations, ranging from tier-one mobile operators and equipment suppliers to Facebook itself. Few recognize that TIP wants to create open source access, backhaul, core network and management platforms.
Google’s Project Loon, using fleets of balloons to provide Internet access across rural areas, is working with all four Indonesian mobile operators and is awaiting approval from the finance ministry to proceed, said Leo Sugandi, Ministry of ICT, Indonesia.
Steve Song, Network Startup Resource Center associate, does not necessarily believe large national service providers are “required.” Villages and communities can be encouraged to create their own access networks, either mobile or Wi-Fi.
We“Solutions that blur the lines between licensed and unlicensed are possible and represent lower risk for regulators and operators,” Song said. “We need new models for spectrum access.”