|A Future Built on Broadband
“I see broadband as perhaps the greatest opportunity we have ever known for
human progress,” says Dr Hamadoun Touré, Secretary General of the International
Telecommunication Union. It is a big claim, but broadband around the world has a
Increasingly, experts see broadband networks as a fundamental infrastructure, as
vital to modern economic and societal development as roads and rail systems. In
a time of global financial crisis, many governments are showing renewed interest
in mandating or directly organizing national broadband capability to stimulate
From this perspective, broadband is not merely a higher speed version of the
Internet, offering the same services but with faster connectivity. Rather, it
represents a major paradigm shift, reordering economic and societal potential
worldwide if networks get deployed on a large enough scale. Countries as diverse
as Singapore, Australia and Korea (Rep. of) have developed or are planning to
develop advanced networks of this kind to increase their economic
competitiveness. Other countries such as Finland have legislated to make
broadband a legally-binding universal service.
Broadband will enable applications and services of all kinds to be delivered
more widely, cheaply and reliably, with positive economic impact. Analysis1
suggests that increasing broadband penetration by 10 per cent can lift GDP
growth by 1.2 per cent in developed countries and nearly 1.4 per cent in
developing countries. That means direct implementation of broadband will not
only help economies grow: it will assist the most marginalized people on the
planet and save lives. ”Broadband will be vital to meet the most pressing
humanitarian item on the international agenda, the UN Millennium Development
Goals,” says Dr Touré. The MDGs were set up to alleviate poverty, improve
healthcare, education and empowerment across the world, but in many cases the
target date of 2015 may not be met without bringing the power of broadband into
The multi-faceted challenge
Getting broadband deployed widely is a complex and multi-faceted task – and
one that has been a long-time focus of ITU. As a unique intergovernmental,
multi-stakeholder organization, ITU has the political and technical breadth to
address the policy, technological and economic issues that broadband brings:
Recognizing that broadband needs to be pushed to the top of
government agendas in developed and developing countries alike,
ITU teamed up with UNESCO to establish the
Commission for Digital Development, drawing on the expertise
of the world’s leading policymakers, technical gurus and
radiocommunication, ITU has been active in developing the critical wired and
wireless next generation technology standards that will shape the future
broadband world, and has established an active dialogue with early adopters,
such as groups involved in defining intelligent car and smart grid solutions.
ITU has been proactive in providing training for policymakers, analyzing
economic issues, establishing best practice for market deployments, and
developing strategies to address the fundamental needs of connectivity in the
Least Developed Countries.
ITU has pooled its own expertise, and works on a cross-sectoral basis to ensure
the broadband world will be both secure and environmentally friendly.
What is broadband?
When ITU talks of ‘broadband’, the emphasis is indeed on the high speed of
connection, but more importantly on what high-speed networks can deliver.
Broadband means users having high-speed connectivity to engage in a wide range
of applications and services, such as high quality videoconferencing, multimedia
downloading, and telephony – often all at the same time.
At a nuts and bolts level, broadband will use not only wired networks with fibre
optics and upgraded copper transmission lines, but also advanced ‘3G’ and
IMT-Advanced ‘4G’ wireless networks. We’re likely to see complementary
deployments, with wireless broadband covering rural areas and supporting nomadic
users, while fixed broadband offers very high speeds and data volumes. And
whether you’re accessing broadband via fixed or wireless networks, high capacity
fibre-based infrastructure will be needed to support broadband wireless backhaul
Why is broadband so special?
Applications such as e-education, e-health or smart grid are increasingly
information ‘heavy’ and generate vast amounts of data exchange over the network.
At the same time, an explosion in social networking – particularly involving
video – means users demand increasingly more bandwidth. Broadband provides the
huge capacity to do this, and can aggregate applications and data on a single
network, cutting service costs dramatically.
Furthermore, broadband networks are often cheaper to deploy, operate and upgrade
on a like-for-like basis than previous technology generations, and have very
high green credentials compared with older technologies.
What will broadband do?
Authoritative analysis already suggests that broadband on a national scale
can make a major impact on the delivery of education, health, energy and
transport services. It is estimated that cost savings in these key sectors of
just 0.5 per cent to 1.5 per cent over a decade would be enough to pay for a
near-ubiquitous broadband fibre network.
Education –educators see high quality,
multi-functional e-learning powered by broadband as the vital
strategy for rapid training and relieving the pressure on
physical school and college facilities around the world.
Health – broadband can empower individual doctors and nurses,
community clinics and entire healthcare systems with the knowledge tools to
combat preventable disease. In developed countries where demographics mean big
prospective rises in elderly populations, broadband will enable remote
monitoring and communication.
Transport, Energy and Environment – broadband will be a key
component of so-called smart grid technologies in the future. Smart grids will
optimize power generation and consumption meaning potentially huge cost savings
in energy use. Already, broadband is being incorporated into national smart grid
strategies in countries such as Australia, Korea (Rep. of) and the United
States. Transport can be made more efficient and environmentally friendly with
intelligent transport systems. The environment benefits, because waste and
emissions are reduced through a move from physical goods to information goods
and services, through more efficient networks and ICT equipment, and through
substituting applications like videoconferencing and virtual collaboration tools
for physical travel.
E-governance – broadband may also change many aspects of the
relationship citizens have to their governments. From passport and ID card
applications, citizen benefit claims, to voting and accountability, e-governance
could produce unprecedented societal benefits – and massive cost savings – as
well as increase the efficiency and transparency of governments.
1 World Bank:
In the 21st century, the social and economic development of
every country on earth will depend on it