What will drive mobile broadband?

By the end of 2013, ITU predicts there will be 2.1 billion mobile broadband subscriptions globally and this is equivalent to one third of the total mobile subscriptions. It is expected that mobile subscriptions is set to exceed 7 billion and will overtake the total world population in 2014.

Mobile Internet subscriptions have increased nearly tenfold over the last six years, from 268 million in 2007 to 2.1 billion in 2013. With developing countries accounting for over half or 1.16 billion of these subscriptions, many subscribers are gaining their first Internet experience  through a mobile device.

The State of the Broadband report was released in New York at the 8th meeting of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development and the report reveals that mobile broadband subscriptions are growing at a rate of 30 percent per year. It is predicted that by the end of 2013 there will be more than three times as many mobile broadband connections as there are conventional fixed broadband subscriptions.

Even more significantly, by the end of 2013, the number of broadband subscriptions in the developing world will exceed the number of broadband subscriptions in the developed world for the first time, in both fixed and mobile, respectively.

To increase broadband connections, the Broadband Commission talks about five targets which need to be focused by all governments be it developed or developing economies.

First, it talks about making broadband policy universal by 2015. For this all countries should have a National Broadband Policy or include broadband in their Univeral Access Service definition. The government has to play an essential role in ensuring a stable regulatory and legal framework to foster and incentivize investments and create a level playing-field to ensure long-term and sustainable competition.

As per the report by mid-2013, some 134 or 69 percent of all countries had a national plan, strategy, or policy in place to promote broadband, and a further 12 countries or 6 percent were planning to introduce such measures in the near future. However, 47 countries still do not have any plan, strategy or policy in place for broadband.

Second, focus is on making broadband affordable by 2015. The government should stress on making entry-level broadband services more affordable in developing countries. By 2012, fixed broadband services remain expensive, accounting for 30.1 percent of average monthly incomes in developing countries. Availability and affordability gaps are disproportionately impacting people in Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

Countries need to develop pro-competitive policies in all areas be it: eliminating potential distortions in termination rates; promoting fair and non-discriminatory access to essential facilities (such as the local loop or submarine cables); and facilitating the entry of new operators in the market.

Third, area of focus is connecting homes to broadband. It is expected by 2015, 40 percent of all households in developing countries should have Internet access. Globally, 41 percent of all households will be connected to the Internet by end 2013. In the developing world, 28 percent of households have Internet access compared with over three-quarters or 78 percent of all households in the developed world.

Mobile broadband is today connecting many more homes. Five countries have a mobile broadband penetration in excess of 100 connections per capita – Singapore, Japan, Finland, Republic of Korea and Sweden. Thirty countries have mobile-broadband subscriptions in excess of a ratio one per two inhabitants, compared to just thirteen last year.

Fourth, is getting people online and Broadband Commission is targeting 60 percent worldwide Internet penetration by 2015. Of which 50 percent should be in developing countries and 15 percent in low developing countries (LDC).

By the end of 2013, some 2.7 billion people will be online, equivalent to a global penetration rate of 39 percent. In the developing world, Internet penetration will reach 31 percent by the end of 2013 and 10 percent in LDCs.

By 2015, the Broadband Commission predicts that despite the growth of mobile broadband, global Internet user penetration will reach 45 percent worldwide, far short of its target of 60 percent, while Internet user penetration will reach 37 percent in developing countries, far short of its target of 50 percent.

The last focus is on achieving gender equality in broadband access by 2020. By the end of 2013, ITU estimates that some 1.3 billion Internet users will be women  compared with 1.5 billion men online. This gender gap is more pronounced in the developing world, where 16 percent fewer women than men use the Internet, compared with only 2 percent fewer women than men in the developed world.

To maximize the impact of broadband, the Broadband Commission ask policy makers to focus on: Promoting market liberalization; Review and update regulatory service obligations; Consider open access approaches to infrastructure; introduce and develop a national broadband plan; Update and Utilize Universal Service Funds (USFs); Review licensing schemes; Review & reduce taxation; Review policy frameworks for spectrum; Spur demand and introduce measures to stimulate the creation of local content; Support accurate and timely statistical monitoring; and consider undertaking public consultations on policy.

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