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ITU Strategy and Policy Unit News Update 
Monthly Flash - September 2004

Issue 13
: September 2004

Previous editions

In this edition

The Portable Internet ( 
1. The Portable Internet: A disruptive technology?
2. Market opportunities 
3. Policy and Regulatory Aspects
4. A tool for bridging the digital divide 
5. Science Fiction or Fact?
6. Societal implications of a portable world

7. Related links                

"The Portable Internet" is the sixth in the series of “ ITU Internet Reports" originally launched in 1997. This new report examines the emergence of high-speed wireless Internet access technologies in combination with the proliferation of portable access devices. It covers the following areas: current and future technologies, market trends, policy and regulatory aspects, the digital divide, and social factors. The report also contains a statistical annex providing the latest ICT data for some 206 economies worldwide. A summary of the report, and data samples, are available for free download and information on how to purchase the electronic or hard copy of the report may be found on The Portable Internet website.

1. The Portable Internet: A disruptive technology? 

Telecommunications have traditionally been characterized by long network planning cycles and high fixed investment costs. This makes the industry particularly vulnerable to disruptive or “subversive” technologies. Unlike the slow process of improving on a particular product or service through incremental change, so called disruptive technologies undermine the fundamental economics of product development and threaten to tear up the page and start again. Technologies described as the “portable Internet” may just fall into this category.

Users accessing the Internet often face a trade-off between higher connection speeds and levels of mobility. Fixed-line technologies generally offer higher speeds while IMT-2000 mobile phone networks offer greater mobility. Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) technologies fall in between, offering users limited mobility with only a small decrease in overall speeds. However, there is a wide gap between the amount of mobility offered by 3G and that of WLAN and many see this as the prime market segment for new portable Internet technologies, especially in developing countries.

The portable Internet, comprises a wide range of technologies, each filling the need for a specific type of user access. These technologies can be categorized according to the geographical reach of their radio signals. Short-range technologies, such as Bluetooth and RFID, allow low-power connectivity within a range of 30 metres. Medium-range technologies can communicate at least 150 metres from a hotspot (e.g. Wi-Fi, or IEEE 802.11b) and up to several kilometres, depending on environmental and regulatory factors. Finally, long-range technologies such as WiMAX (IEEE 802.16) and IMT-2000 (3G) have ranges that extend up to 50 kilometres from a base station, and can extend to near-nationwide coverage when offered as a networked service. Solutions based on high- or low-altitude platform stations also fit in this category, (HAPS/LAPS) which can serve a whole town, and satellite that can serve a whole region.

Figure 1: What is the portable Internet?
Technologies and market opportunity 



2. Market opportunities 

There are potential uses and markets for a " portable internet" in both developed as well as developing markets- two types of markets which would have vastly differing uses and needs for these technologies. 

In developed country markets, the main market opportunity is both in complementary and substitutable services, and that this market is likely to grow in rhythm with replacement cycle for handsets and other portable devices. As far as substitution goes, it is likely to be at the level of service revenue (i.e., subscribers choosing to route their Internet traffic over a Wi-Fi connection rather than over and IMT-2000 network) as much as at the level of the device itself. But the precise way in which this works out will depend on the extent to which the handset manufacturers jump on the portable internet bandwagon and allow interworking between high-speed mobile networks and other portable Internet technologies, and whether cellular service providers also encourage this.

Meanwhile in developing country markets, the story is a different one. The main opportunity is, rolling out new services into untapped or poorly served areas where the existing fixed-line network is poorly developed. Where the 2G mobile network has not yet been transitioned to higher speeds, or where higher-speed IMT-2000 services have not yet been licensed. In particular, a portable internet type technology like WiMAX may hold the most promise in delivering access to developing economies and to rural areas of developed ones.


Figure 2: Top 15 broadband economies worldwide        
As measured by penetration rate per 100 inhabitants, 2003, and broken down by technology



Figure 3: 3G market shares
Division, by country, of 3G subscribers worldwide at 30 June 2004, broken down by technology


3. Policy and Regulatory Aspects

From a policy and regulatory perspective, the provision of portable Internet services raises a diverse range of questions. The concept is one which straddles a diverse range of issues, reflecting convergence services and technologies. One key question raised is that of spectrum management. In recent years, technological innovation in the field of communications has placed increasing demands on radio spectrum. In the area of telecommunications, new services have been launched, such as IMT-2000 wireless broadband Internet access, and digital broadcasting which, has ushered in a new range of services such as high definition television. Meanwhile, existing demands in the form of traditional broadcasting, mobile voice services, public safety services and defence have also grown, placing an increased strain on the finite amount of radio spectrum available.

Looking towards the future, the development and distribution of new wireless products and services will continue to accelerate, driven by consumer demand for ubiquitous access to communications and information. Together with an increased demand for radio spectrum, boundaries between new services will also increasingly blur, departing from established industry categorizations and rigid regulatory definitions. This will inevitably make radio spectrum management more difficult and less predictable.

Box 1: “Unified Access Licensing” and “Unified Licensing”
Review of licensing regime in India

Following technological and market developments reflecting the increasing overlap between telecommunications services provided over fixed and wireless means, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) felt that there was a need to review its licensing regime. Accordingly, a Consultation Paper on Unified Access Licensing for basic and cellular services was issued on 16 July 2003 by the authority. On 27 October 2003, TRAI produced a blueprint for a unified access licensing (UAL) regime that provided for a single licence category for fixed-line and cellular operators. On 11 November 2003, the Government sanctioned this plan. As a result, both Basic and Cellular Mobile service providers were given the freedom to offer basic and/or cellular mobile services using any technology.

Although the UAL regime is only currently limited to access networks, TRAI’s intention is to extend the UAL regime into a unified licensing regime for all services including services such as national long distance, international long distance, and Internet access. As envisaged, the unified licensing regime would allow for the automatic licensing or authorisation of any service provider subject to notification and compliance with published regulatory guidelines. Spectrum charges would be determined by a different mechanism.

Preliminary consultation papers on the unified licensing regime were issued on 15 November 2003 and 13 March 2003 in order to obtain further input. Based on the comments received, TRAI released their draft recommendations on a unified licensing regime on 6 August 2004.

4. A tool for bridging the digital divide  

In recent years, as information and communication technologies (ICT) have become the backbone of the global information economy and given birth to the rise of the information society, more attention has been focused on the gap known as the “digital divide” in access to ICTs, in particular between developed and developing countries. Can portable internet technologies help bridge this divide?

When it comes to ICT development, the well-documented problem of the absence of infrastructure—both fixed and wireless—is often the first issue to attract attention. With the explosion of mobile technologies worldwide, there is much hope for the faster and cheaper extension of access to ICTs. Early benefits of wireless technologies for the developing world are already being seen, for instance, in the health sector. 

Box 2: Information technologies for bridging the health divide
Wireless telemedicine initiative in India

In India the Wireless Local Loop technology, CorDect provides simultaneous high-quality voice and data connectivity in both urban and rural areas. It has the potential to connect 85 per cent of the villages of India with coverage radius of 25 km. Radio exchange and base stations are deployed in towns (where fibre is present) and a subscriber unit is deployed in the village, providing a telephone connection and an Internet connection at 35/70 kbit/s.

The aim of this system is to provide healthcare services to people living in rural areas, where it is difficult to reach a doctor. In the example of sixty-year old Palaniammal, a web camera set in a special kiosk was used to photograph her eyes, and the photo sent electronically for diagnosis. The process was facilitated through the use of a real-time video conferencing system and the exchange of on-screen instant messages. Despite the low quality resolution, a doctor based at a distant healthcare centre was able to diagnose that she was suffering from a cataract. The photos were also e-mailed to the Aravind Eye Care Hospital in Madurai for a second opinion. The doctor then sent back instructions and Palaniammal’s vision was restored in few days. This example shows how wireless technologies can help reduce the social disadvantages suffered by rural communities at a relatively low cost.


  5. Science Fiction or Fact?

Human beings are more often connected to a network than not, through personal computers at work or home, and through mobile phones. But what if not only people, but all things were also connected and contactable? Far from science fiction, the day is fast approaching when every consumer product (from cars to razors) will be tracked using tiny radio transmitters, or tagged with embedded hyperlinks and powered by portable Internet technologies so that they can be tracked at any time and from any device. Such “smart labels” will ultimately transform the way these products are distributed, sold and purchased, creating what some have aptly named an “Internet of things”.

Tagged and ready-to-go

RFID is a good example of this "Internet of things".  RFID tags are essentially tiny microchips, some only 1/3 of a millimetre in diameter, that act as transponders (transmitters/responders), continuously waiting for radio signals to be sent by transceivers, or specially-designed RFID readers. They have the ability to track the location of a particular tagged item and can be accessed from a whole range of portable devices. RFID is already being used extensively in a number of countries worldwide for a number of diverse applications and it is likely that RFID will soon replace the familiar bar code in the retail world. 

In Tokyo, RFID tags are being used already for uses as diverse as tracking and pricing plates of sushi, as well as retail shopping. Last year, NTTDoCoMo began trilals of its "R-click" RFID service, a service which delivers location specific information to shoppers as they walk around a metropolitan shopping complex in Roppongi Hills, an area of Tokyo. In the United States, the Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration is currently exploring the use of RFID for roadways. The Administration plans to use RFID as a way to warn drivers of possible dangers, e.g. imminent intersection collisions or vehicle rollovers. 

Box 3: Clubbers get chipped with tags in Barcelona
RFID has its privileges, if you're willing to be injected

The Baja Beach Club in Barcelona recently introduced RFID chips for their VIP patrons. An RFID implant (VeriChipTM), injected via syringe, allows club-goers to breeze past readers that recognize them and their VIP status.  The chip contains information about access permissions, thereby opening exclusive areas of the club. The chip also stores information regarding credit balances - the “chipped” VIPs can therefore purchase drinks and food by simply waving their hand. About the size of a grain of rice, each Verichip RFID device contains a unique verification number, which can be used to access a database with personal information.

VeriChip works in the following manner. Once implanted just under the skin (typically in the upper arm), the chip can be scanned when necessary with a VerichipTM RFID scanner. A small amount of radio frequency energy passes from the scanner, energizing the dormant chip, which then emits a radio frequency signal. The signal transmits the individual’s unique personal verification ID number and provides instant access to the Global Subscriber Registry. This is done via secure, password-protected Internet access. Once they are confirmed in the registry, VIP benefits are granted.    

            VerichipTM                                    Process                                    


6. Societal implications of a portable world

What kind of implications do these new technologies hold for individuals and society as a whole? Technology does not exist in a vacuum. The ubiquity of access to information and communication has an undeniable and profound effect on human existence.

For instance, it has been remarked by many that the expanded or enhanced social networks afforded by portable cellular phones has created a new sense of identity for various groups of people, especially teenagers. For teens in particular, portable devices are an integral part of their daily lives and an extension of their personal identity as they customize them to suit their needs. They are more comfortable with using the mobile phone and playing with digital gadgets than their older counterparts. The mobile phone is a status symbol for young people who are grappling with the forces of peer pressure and conformity but in some cases usage threatens to get out of control.

Box 4: Too mobile, too much, too often...
Mobile phones - the new teen addiction ?

The number of young people using mobile telephones has risen dramatically during the past decade, and is expected to further increase at a rapid rate. The use of mobile phones by young people is typically higher and more varied than adults. The youth of today believe in the anytime, anyplace, anywhere mobile culture. For instance, they are seen constantly checking for, and writing new text messages. Indeed, mobile phones are more than just a fad for teenagers, and some argue that there is a tendency for “technology addiction” in this context. Some psychiatrists have gone so far as to say that addiction to mobile phones could be a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder among the young, which may become one of the biggest non-drug addictions of the 21st century. 


Mobile phone addiction can have the effect of isolating users (i.e. from face-to-face contact) and has the potential to ruin them (or rather their parents) financially. Symptoms include: becoming disturbed when unable to communicate uninterrupted with their mobile phone and irritable if away from it for any period of time. 

Mobile phone usage among the young not only increases the opportunity to bond with friends and to organize a social life on the move, it also provides a symbol for acceptance. This is important to a teenager’s individuality and confidence. Therefore, teenagers that are struggling with their identity and social status are particularly vulnerable to this addiction syndrome.  

7. Related links

ITU Internet Report 2004 "The Portable Internet" (September 2004) 
ITU/KADO Digital Bridges Symposium (September 2004)
ITU/MIC Workshop and Symposium on Shaping the Future Mobile Information Society (March 2004)
ITU Workshop on Radio-Spectrum Management for a Converging World (February 2004)
ITU Internet Reports 2003 "'Birth of Broadband" (September 2003)
Strategy and Policy Unit: Publications
Strategy and Policy Unit: Newslog   

For further information on Strategy and Policy Unit Monthly News Flash, please contact: ITU Strategy and Policy Unit, International Telecommunication Union, Place des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 20 (Switzerland). Fax: +41 22 730 6453. E-mail: . Website:



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