World Bank: Mobile broadband has more impact than fixed

Mobile broadband has a higher positive impact than fixed broadband on economic growth, particularly in developing nations, according to a new report from the World Bank and infoDev, its technology entrepreneurship and innovation program. The report recommended a number of supply- and demand-side policies to foster increased adoption of mobile broadband in markets worldwide.

In some countries, such as Colombia, Kenya, South Africa and Vietnam, mobile broadband is already the main platform for broadband access, having surpassed fixed broadband by more than 10 times in the two African countries and almost three times in Vietnam, said the report, "Information and Communications for Development 2012: Maximizing Mobile."

On the supply side of the mobile broadband equation, the World Bank recommended that governments ensure sufficient availability of quality spectrum for deployment of cost-effective mobile broadband networks. The report noted that LTE can operate in multiple frequency bands, but the lower bands, such as 700 MHz and 800 MHz "can be more cost-effective, allowing for both wider coverage from fewer radio base stations (an important consideration for rural area deployments) and higher powers to support building penetration (an important consideration in urban areas)."

Noting that LTE can use different-sized blocks of spectrum--from 1.4 to 20 MHz--the study said regulators should consider the fact that "operators may need larger blocks of spectrum to cope with demand and avoid congestion, particularly in urban areas."

The World Bank recommends government regulators eliminate technological or service restrictions on spectrum and make frequencies technology neutral. The United States has long pursued that type of policy for commercial mobile licenses, but governments in other parts of the world have often restricted blocks of spectrum to certain technologies, such as WCDMA. "Applying the principle of technological neutrality is as relevant for new spectrum being released as for spectrum that has already been allocated, particularly second- and third-generation (2G, 3G) band spectrum," said the report.

The World Bank also recommended governments foster the sharing of infrastructure and spectrum sharing, the latter being something the U.S. government is increasingly interested in pursuing.

Regarding the demand side of mobile broadband, the World Bank encourages operators to consider prepaid packages and other tailored services for mobile broadband services, such as offering a USB dongle with a certain amount of data that can be used on laptops or PCs over cellular networks. "In Colombia, operators offer prepaid mobile broadband for different prices based on duration and service access, ranging from $0.50 a day for chat or email access only to $25 a month for full broadband access," which is less than 6 percent of monthly gross national income per capita at the highest offering, said the study.

There are more than six billion mobile subscriptions in use worldwide, up from fewer than one billion in 2000, which means some 75 percent of the world's inhabitants now have access to a mobile phone. The report also noted that more than 30 billion mobile applications were downloaded in 2011.

For more:
- see this World Bank release
- see this World Bank report chapter (PDF)

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