GSMA to ITU-D: Addressing Barriers to Mobile Network Coverage in the Developing World

by Ms. Lauren Dawes, GSMA-UK    ldawes@gsma.com

Abstract:

  • While mobile broadband (3G or 4G) coverage in the developed world is ubiquitous, 800 million people are still not covered by mobile broadband networks. In rural areas the cost of building and operating mobile infrastructure can be twice as expensive compared to urban areas, with revenues up to 10 times smaller.
  • In addition, 3.2 billion people live in areas covered by mobile broadband networks but are not using mobile internet services. A large scale consumer survey conducted by the GSMA revealed that affordability was the greatest barrier to using mobile internet services.
  • Both the private sector and public sector have important roles to play in improving the business case for mobile network coverage expansion.
  • By providing precise and granular data on mobile coverage, GSMA Mobile Coverage Maps can help operators determine the costs of providing mobile broadband services in uncovered areas and support the development of mobile networks.
  • For example, GSMA Coverage maps can help mobile operators assess the relevance of infrastructure sharing deals. Indeed, infrastructure sharing can help to lower the risk and costs of investments in network expansion. Regulators should seize this opportunity and ensure all forms of voluntary infrastructure sharing between operators are permitted.
  • GSMA Coverage Maps can also help other stakeholders – including governments, NGOs, and private companies that rely on mobile connectivity – to strategically target their activity, by helping them identify the locations with existing coverage.
  • In this context, policy-makers are encouraged to adopt policies that will support mobile operators’ efforts to provide affordable mobile internet services. This includes:
  1. Removing sector specific taxes which have an impact on the price of mobile devices and the costs of providing mobile internet services;
  2. Adopting pro-investment supply side policies in areas such as spectrum policy and planning;
  3. Providing open and non-discriminatory access to state-owned public infrastructures.

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Discussion:

Mobile is now the most common – and often the only way – that many people around the world access the internet, with 3.6 billion now subscribing to mobile internet services. However, while mobile broadband (3G or 4G) coverage in the developed world is ubiquitous, 800 million people are still not covered by mobile broadband networks. In rural areas the cost of building and operating mobile infrastructure can be twice as expensive compared to urban areas, with revenues up to 10 times smaller. As a result, mobile operators who expand their networks to rural areas often find that they lose money or take a long time to produce a return on investment. While seeking to grow their coverage (and hence their subscriber base) they can struggle to identify locations that could be economically viable.

In addition, 3.2 billion people live in areas covered by mobile broadband networks but are not using mobile internet services – thus indicating that whilst coverage is a necessary criteria, it alone cannot address the problem of digital inclusion. A large scale consumer survey conducted by the GSMA[1] revealed that affordability was the greatest barrier to using mobile internet services, for people who were aware of mobile internet. In almost all the sample countries, the greatest barriers to mobile internet use are access to, and the cost of, internet-enabled handsets and data. These barriers are clearly interlinked, representing the importance of the overall cost of mobile internet access. The analysis also indicates that, although cost is an important consideration for both women and men in many of the surveyed countries, this barrier disproportionately affects women. For example, in Dominican Republic, 53% of female mobile users who do not use mobile internet, but are aware of it, cited handset cost as a key barrier to mobile internet use compared to 37% of men. In a similar sample in Kenya, 43% of women and 31% of men stated that not having access to an internet-enabled mobile phone was a major barrier to using mobile internet.

Both the private sector and public sector have important roles to play in improving the business case for mobile network coverage expansion.

Precise and granular data is key to help mobile operators, governments and others to determine the costs of providing mobile broadband services in uncovered areas and support the development of sustainable networks. In this context, the GSMA developed Mobile Coverage Maps[2]: a tool to help operators and others estimate the precise location and size of uncovered populations. These maps will allow users to:

  • Gain an accurate and complete picture of the mobile coverage in a given country by each generation of mobile technology (2G, 3G and 4G)
  • Estimate the population living in uncovered or underserved settlements with a very high level of granularity (e.g. small cities, villages or farms)
  • Search for uncovered settlements based on population size.

GSMA Mobile Coverage Maps are therefore a key tool to help operators improve the efficiency of their investments. For example, GSMA Coverage maps can help mobile operators assess the need for infrastructure sharing deals. Indeed, infrastructure sharing can help to lower the risk and costs of investments in network expansion. Regulators should seize this opportunity and ensure all forms of voluntary infrastructure sharing between operators are permitted. This is especially the case since the costs savings of such commercial arrangements can be significant, reducing capital investment and on-going operating costs by between 50% and 80% -depending on market structure and the sharing model – which can be reinvested in network expansion[3]. This helps to close the ‘coverage gap’ and encourage operators to venture into rural areas they might otherwise have not wanted or could not afford to go to.

GSMA Mobile Coverage Maps can also help other stakeholders – including governments, NGOs, and private companies that rely on mobile connectivity – to strategically target their activity, by helping them identify the locations with existing coverage.

In this context, it is critical for policy makers to adopt economic policies that will support mobile operators’ efforts to provide affordable services.

  • Mobile is the main gateway to the internet for consumers in many parts of the world today, particularly in developing countries. Despite this, governments in many of these countries are increasingly imposing – in addition to general taxes – sector-specific taxes on consumers of mobile services and devices and on mobile operators. This poses a significant risk to the growth of the services among citizens, limiting the widely acknowledged social and economic benefits associated with mobile technology. This latest report from GSMA Intelligence https://www.gsmaintelligence.com/research/?file=8f36cd1c58c0d619d9f165261a57f4a9&download examines mobile sector taxation over time and its impact on affordability and connectivity. The report highlights the taxes applied to mobile services and how certain taxes can raise the affordability barrier and reduce the ability of citizens to take part in digital society. It also explores the impact of uncertain tax regimes on operators’ ability to continue investing in new networks. The report shows how sector-specific taxes can create inefficiency, inequity and complexity, and hinder achievement of the UN Broadband Commission’s target for affordable broadband for all by 2025.
  • Effective pro-investment supply side policies should also be adopted in areas such as spectrum policy and planning to encourage long term investment in the sector and result in more affordable mobile internet services being made available to all.
  • Providing open and non-discriminatory access to state-owned public infrastructures such as public buildings, roads, railways and utility service ducts can also significantly reduce the costs of network roll-out and can be key to providing the site access and necessary backhaul capacity so critical to operator investments.

Notes:

[1] The analysis is based on findings from quantitative face-to-face surveys with women and men in 23 low- and middle-income countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America. Source: Gender Gap Report 2018. GSMA (2019). Available here: https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/GSMA_The_Mobile_Gender_Gap_Report_2018_32pp_WEBv7.pdf

[2] GSMA Mobile Coverage Maps use data collected directly from mobile operators and overlay it with the High Resolution Settlement Layer, a dataset developed by Facebook Connectivity Lab and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University. This data estimates human population distribution at a hyperlocal level, based on census data and high-resolution satellite imagery. We have further enriched this data by adding socioeconomic indicators and key buildings such as schools, hospitals, and medical centres. The Mobile Coverage Maps are accessible here: www.mobilecoveragemaps.com

[3] Unlocking rural coverage: Enablers for commercially sustainable mobile network expansion. GSMA (2016). Available here: https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Unlocking-Rural-Coverage-enablers-for-commercially-sustainable-mobile-network-expansion_English.pdf

GSMA calls for 5G policy incentives in China + 2018 MWC Shanghai a big success!

China is expected to become the world’s largest 5G market by 2025, accounting for around 430 million 5G connections, representing a third of the global total.

Industry verticals where 5G are expected to play a key role include: automotive, drones and manufacturing. The report calls for China to promote the development of legislation for areas such as car-hacking and data privacy to support China’s connected car market.

The report notes that China MobileChina Telecom and China Unicom are all currently trialing 5G autonomous driving and working on solutions such as cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) for remote driving and autonomous vehicles.

To accelerate the development of the drone market, the report calls for common standards for connectivity management. The drone market is expected to be worth around $13 billion by 2025.

Finally, the report calls for common standards for interconnection between Industry 4.0 platforms and devices (more below) to avoid market fragmentation, drive economies of scale and increase speed to market.

“China’s leadership in 5G is backed by a proactive government intent on delivering rapid structural change and achieving global leadership – but without industry-wide collaboration, the right incentives or appropriate policies in place, the market will not fulfil its potential,” commented Mats Granryd, Director General, GSMA. “Mobile operators should be encouraged to deliver what they do best in providing secure, reliable and intelligent connectivity to businesses and enterprises across the country.”

“Wide collaboration and a right policy environment are essential for 5G to unleash its potential in various verticals, and the three sectors addressed in the report are only a beginning,” said Craig Ehrlich, Chairman of GTI. “The Chinese government and all three operators have been propelling 5G trials and cross-industrial innovation, and the valuable experience gained from the process should serve as a worthwhile reference for the other markets around the globe.”

velopment of legislation for areas such as car-hacking and data privacy. New policies should be pro-innovation and pro-investment to encourage future developments in the sector. All three operators are currently trialling 5G autonomous driving and working on solutions such as Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) for remote driving, vehicle platooning and autonomous vehicles.

Accelerated Growth of Drones Market: 
The report also calls for common standards for connectivity management in the drones market to help accelerate investment and the deployment of new infrastructure and service models. The drones market, estimated to be worth RMB80 billion ($13 billion) by 2025, is developing rapidly in China in applications such as parcel delivery and tracking, site surveying, mapping and remote security patrols, among others. Improvements in mapping, real-time video distribution and analytics platforms are also helping to establish the technology in industrial verticals.

China Entering Age of Industry 4.0: 
Backed by government support, China is transforming its manufacturing industry through embracing the use of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning and analytics. The government’s aim is to increase productivity and drive new revenue opportunities. The report calls for common standards for interconnection between platforms and devices to avoid market fragmentation, drive economies of scale and increase speed to market. GSMA Intelligence estimates that there will be 13.8 billion global Industrial IoT (IIoT) connections by 2025 with China accounting for 65%.

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Separately, GSMA today reported that more than 60,000 unique visitors from 112 countries and territories attended the 2018 GSMA Mobile World Congress Shanghai, from 27-29 June in Shanghai. The three-day event attracted executives from the largest and most influential organisations across the mobile ecosystem, as well from companies in a range of vertical industry sectors. In addition to this business-to-business audience, nearly 8,800 consumers from the greater Shanghai metropolitan area attended the Migu Health and Fitness Festival, which was held in the Mobile World Congress Shanghai halls at the Shanghai New International Exhibition Centre (SNIEC).

“We are extremely pleased with the results for the 2018 Mobile World Congress Shanghai, particularly the very strong growth in our business-to-business segment,” said John Hoffman, CEO, GSMA Ltd. “Attendees were able to truly “Discover a Better Future”, from the thought leadership conference to the exhibition and everywhere in between. With more than two-thirds of the world’s population as subscribers, mobile is revolutionising industries and improving our everyday lives, creating exciting new opportunities while providing lifelines of hope and reducing inequality. Mobile truly is connecting everyone and everything to a better future.”

Covering seven halls at the SNIEC, the 2018 Mobile World Congress Shanghai hosted 550 exhibitors, nearly half of which come from outside of China. The conference programme attracted nearly 4,000 attendees, with more than 55 per cent of delegates holding senior-level positions, including nearly 320 CEOs. Nearly 830 international media and industry analysts attended Mobile World Congress Shanghai to report on the many industry developments highlighted at the show.

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About the GSMA:
The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting nearly 800 operators with more than 300 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and internet companies, as well as organisations in adjacent industry sectors. The GSMA also produces industry-leading events such as Mobile World Congress, Mobile World Congress Shanghai, Mobile World Congress Americas and the Mobile 360 Series of conferences.

For more information, please visit the GSMA corporate website at www.gsma.com. Follow the GSMA on Twitter: @GSMA

About the GTI:
GTI (Global TD-LTE Initiative), founded in 2011, has been dedicated to constructing a robust ecosystem of TD-LTE and promoting the convergence of LTE TDD and FDD. As 4G evolves to 5G, GTI 2.0 was officially launched at the GTI Summit 2016 Barcelona, aiming not only to further promote the evolution of TD-LTE and its global deployment, but also to foster a cross-industry innovative and a synergistic 5G ecosystem.

For more information, please visit the GTI website at http://gtigroup.org/

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