Connecting the Next 1.5 Billion: making the connection between spectrum and innovation

rancy-blog4The Internet as we know it today has only been around for 25 years, but it has had an immeasurable impact on the way that we live our lives, giving almost unlimited access to global information and acting as a means of worldwide communication. Yet, there are roughly 4 billion people around the world who are still ‘offline’, unable to access and participate in the Information Society.

ITU has embarked on an ambitious task – to connect the next 1.5 billion people to the Internet by 2020. The goal comes as part of a wider vision for the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector, dubbed Connect 2020, developed as part of the 2016-2019 ITU Strategic Plan, with goals and measurable targets representing the change that the Union wants to see achieved by 2020.

Under ITU Goal no.1 “Growth – enable and foster access to and increased use of telecommunications/ICTs”, ITU membership aims to foster growth in the use of ICTs and create a positive impact on socio-economic development. The ITU is committed to working together and collaborating with all stakeholders in the ICT ecosystem in order to achieve this goal.

As Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau, I was delighted to participate in the first in a series of five Connect 2020 roundtables scheduled to happen at PP-14, and to join fellow panelists, Paul Mitchell, General Manager of Technology Policy, at Microsoft; Veena Rawat, Senior Spectrum Adviser at GSMA, and Chris Murphy, VP for Regulatory Affairs at INMARSAT to discuss the key challenges associated with this task.

Delivering broadband connectivity is a multidimensional task encompassing, not least, the interdependent pillars of infrastructure deployment and spectrum availability. Existing infrastructure used for 2G and 3G for both backhaul and base stations will need to be significantly upgraded, relying in particular, on the availability of additional spectrum below 1GHz, which provides enormous advantages for coverage of scarcely populated areas, and on higher capacity satellites and radio relays for backhaul.

Furthermore, in order to create a suitable and sustainable infrastructure for mobile broadband, heavy investment is needed, which will only be developed if there is an assurance that the appropriate spectrum is available in a coordinated and harmonized way and will remain so in the foreseeable future. Satellites are uniquely able to reach the harder to serve and remote areas of the world,  Murphy stressed, noting that reaching all 1.5 billion will require hybrid solutions including both terrestrial and satellite services.

ITU has been responsive to the first challenge of making available the necessary spectrum for the next 1.5 billion with the progressive opening of additional spectrum bands at World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRC) since 2007 and by supporting regional and national activities to implement the digital switchover of terrestrial television broadcasting and facilitate the reallocation of the digital dividend spectrum to the mobile service.

However, the challenge is not only allocating enough spectrum to accommodate the next 1.5 billion ICT users, but accommodating the growth of the markets that are currently connected: the spectrum that is going to be available over the next five to six years is, at best, 50% of what we currently have, compared to traffic requirements which will need a 100-fold increase.

According to Rawat, data traffic grew 45 times between 2008 and 2013; mobile broadband subscriptions particularly in the developing world are sky rocketing; video is expected to be 50% of data traffic from smart phones; and 5 billion or more devices are expected to be connected in the Internet of Things by 2020. “Adding more spectrum through WRC-15 to meet this demand is one of the actions required.” Rawat also noted the importance of ITU’s WRC-15 in getting access to globally harmonized spectrum.

Thus, to connect the next 1.5 billion we need to find ways of both making more spectrum available while simultaneously finding ways to use that spectrum more efficiently, which over time should also lower access costs.

The technologies to use spectrum more efficiently are now starting to be deployed, along with the “IMT Advanced” specifications adopted by the ITU in January 2012, with a significant increase in spectrum efficiency compared to current LTE.

Rawat also rightly emphasized that the main avenue for lower access costs will be derived from global harmonization of spectrum, both at the allocation level and at the detailed band plan level which regulators impose in making spectrum available. This global harmonization allows us to take advantage of the huge economies of scale created by a worldwide market for terminals and network equipment.

Obtaining access to additional spectrum for mobile broadband will inevitably require more spectrum sharing between the radiocommunication services authorized in each country. Microsoft is conducting pilot networks in several countries in Africa and Asia, with broadband connectivity delivered over allocated White Spaces for TV broadcasting which are currently not in use. The challenge in this regard will be to ensure interference-free coexistence between ubiquitous services – having terminals that can both transmit and receive everywhere.

Innovation in the area will go a long way to solve this issue. Mitchell stated that, “innovations come along when you have the flexibility and freedom to think creatively about how to approach a problem.” A future where we can dynamically dial up or dial down spectrum according to the needs of the customer seems possible.

About Connect 2020

The Connect 2020 framework is currently under review at the PP-14 and represents an ambitious vision for the ICT sector, developed as part of the 2016-2019 ITU Strategic Plan, with goals and measurable targets representing the change that the Union wants to see achieved by 2020.

rancyBy François Rancy, Director of ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau

François Rancy
was elected by the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in 2010 to the post of Director of the Radiocommunication Bureau (BR) of the International Telecommunication Union and was re-elected for a second four-year term during the ITU’s Plenipotentiary Conference 2014, currently running in Busan, Korea.

As Director, Mr. Rancy is responsible for the management of the Radiocommunication Bureau which organises and co-ordinates the work of the Radiocommunication Sector whose aim is to ensure the equitable, efficient and economical use of the radio-frequency spectrum and the geostationary satellite orbit.

Prior to taking up his duties at the ITU in January 2011, Mr. Rancy was Director General of the French Agence Nationale des Fréquences. Since 1995, Mr. Rancy has served as the head or deputy head for national delegations at many ITU conferences and meetings. Mr. Rancy graduated from Ecole Polytechnique in 1977 and from Ecole nationale supérieure des télécommunications in 1979.

One comment

  1. […] as much to a lack of connectivity as the lack of means to pay for it. To tackle that issue, the ITU recently unveiled a plan to connect as many as 1.5 billion more users to the internet in 5 years, in part by […]

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