Network congestion set to worsen
ITU calls for international broadband commitment
Geneva, 11 February 2011 — Governments need to take urgent action now
to support mobile broadband growth. So says ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun
Touré, adding that accelerated fibre roll-out and greater spectrum availability
will be imperative if network bottlenecks are to be avoided.
Smartphone users already consume on average five times more data capacity than
users of ordinary mobile phones. With the number of
smartphones set to rise from today’s global estimate of 500 million handsets in
use, to almost two billion by 2015, operators are already having to employ
multi-pronged strategies to keep up with demand – and not all are succeeding.
“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.
“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,” says Dr Touré.
ITU analysis shows 98 countries have National Broadband Plans in place, with
this number set to increase over the next year.
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 one billion in the first quarter of 2011.
With ninety 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. By 2010, 73 per cent
of total mobile cellular subscriptions were from the developing world.
In 2010, Dr Touré led the creation of the
Broadband Commission for Digital
Development to highlight the need for governments worldwide to promote
broadband as a key development tool and push broadband network roll-out more
The Commission is co-chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim
Helú, Honorary Lifetime Chairman of Grupo Carso. Dr Touré and Irina Bokova,
Director-General of UNESCO, are Vice-Chairs. It comprises some of the leading
lights of the mobile industry, including Alcatel Lucent’s Ben Verwaayen, Bharti
Airtel’s Sunil Bharti Mittal, China Mobile’s Wang Jianzhou, Ericsson’s Hans
Vestberg, Denis O’Brien of Digicel, Paul Jacobs of Qualcomm and César Alierta of
Telefonica, alongside other prominent business figures, including Sir Richard
Branson, John Chambers of Cisco and Paul Otellini of Intel. Top policy-makers
and regulators on the Commission include the European Commission’s Neelie Kroes
and the FCC’s Julius Genachowski.
The Commission’s report, delivered to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New
York last September, recommended that world leaders focus on building a
‘virtuous broadband development dynamic’, and urged governments not to limit
market entry, not to tax broadband and related services too heavily, and to
ensure ample availability of spectrum to support mobile broadband growth.
Bandwidth boom needed
In anticipation of ITU’s next World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) in
January 2012, operators in Europe and the US 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
Some views are that access to unused broadcast spectrum – so-called ‘white
spaces’ – might also help alleviate the spectrum squeeze. The ‘digital dividend’
of spectrum freed up by the progressive global move to digital radio and
television seems certain to be high on the agenda of national delegations when
they convene in Geneva for the four-week-long WRC-12.
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
For the moment, alleviating the capacity crunch is leading operators to employ a
range of strategies – from investment in WiFi networks and encouraging users to
install their own femtocell devices, to tiered pricing to penalize heavy data
users, and regulatory approaches that would ask incumbents to open access to
their fibre networks to competitors to provide critical backhaul for mobile data
In addition, more in-ground fibre is needed to move the growing volume of mobile
data traffic from operators’ increasingly rapid radio access networks to their
faster core networks, to optimize speed and call processing. At present, most
backhaul is performed on standard telecommunications twisted copper pair loops,
which offer top speeds of around 34Mbit/s. Carrier-grade fibre backbones are
around 300 times faster, as well as being optimized for packet-based data
traffic, rather than circuit-switched voice.
ITU statistics are from the World Telcommunication/ICT Indicators database.
Some of the information in this press release is from ITU’s forthcoming report
Trends in Telecommunication Reform 2010/2011: Enabling tomorrow’s digital world
which will be available at the end of February 2011.
 From ITU’s
forthcoming report Trends in Telecommunication Reform 2010/2011: Enabling
tomorrow’s digital world which will be available at the end of February 2011
 As above
For more information contact:
ITU Media Relations