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Kuwait represents a bright spot for telecoms in the Middle East 03 Sep 2015

Kuwait has one of the highest mobile penetrations in the Middle East and represents a bright spot amongst a region marred by civil tension. The mobile operators in Kuwait are forging ahead and developing both infrastructure and services, with the three major operators of Zain Kuwait, VIVA and Ooredoo all offering LTE services and now also deploying or exploring LTE-A services.

While mobile is booming in Kuwait; the same cannot be said for broadband and fibre deployment. Fixed broadband penetration is low, blamed on underinvestment in infrastructure and the lack of a national broadband policy. The absence of an independent regulator in particular is thought to be an inhibitor to attracting fixed broadband investment in Kuwait. However with parliament approving plans towards a regulator in 2015, this matter may be resolved in near the future.

Kuwait’s digital economy will take a boost when fibre infrastructure investment and deployment are improved which will supply the appropriate infrastructure required to full develop a robust digital services sector. In the mean time however, Kuwait is pressing forward and offers a number of e-services. In addition Kuwait is attracting a number of start-ups on the back of the government attempt to diversify its economy beyond oil. It is hoped that the government will fund start-ups initiatives and encourage start-up incubators.

Interest in Machine-to-Machine (M2M) networks and the broader concept of the Internet of Everything (IoT) is beginning to emerge in Kuwait. One example includes the 2015 deal between Zain Kuwait and the Vodafone Group which sees their existing partnership extended to include M2M. While Zain already offers basic M2M services, the new deal will allow Zain to offer enhanced end-to-end M2M solutions.

Overall Kuwait offers a dynamic telecoms sector with a strong bias towards mobile infrastructure and services. The country offers opportunities due to its high penetration of mobile and emerging mobile content and services sector.

For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see: Kuwait - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband

Panama’s telecom sector showing revenue revival 02 Sep 2015

Panama has benefited from maintaining one of the region’s highest GDP growth rates in recent years. The country’s economic prospects remain promising despite a dip in GDP growth into 2015. Nevertheless, strong growth in recent years has had a positive knock-on effect on the country’s telecom market, which has also grown steadily and attracted considerable investment. Telecom revenue has broached $1 billion, with mobile services and broadband being the fastest growing sectors.

Panama’s fixed-line teledensity is well below average for the region, though it is rising steadily from a relatively low base, largely due to alternative operators making use of cable or fixed-wireless networks.

Competition remains limited in the broadband sector, where the incumbent Cable & Wireless Panamá has resisted unbundling its local network and as a result has secured a virtual monopoly in the delivery of DSL access. The only cross-platform competition is from cable modem and WiMAX services.

The mobile sector has flourished in recent years, and the popularity of having multiple SIM cards has pushed mobile penetration rates above 190%, considerably higher than the regional average. The arrival of two new mobile players at the beginning of 2009 resulted in additional competition and steep price reductions which have shaken the market. Digicel Panamá launched operations in 2008, followed by América Móvil’s Claro in 2009. This ended the duopoly long enjoyed by Cable & Wireless Panamá and Telefónica’s Movistar.

Internet penetration has grown in recent years and is expected to do so steadily into 2016 as a result of consumer demand for services as well as the stimulus of the government’s Internet for All project. In 2010, Panama became one of the first countries in the world to offer free wireless broadband access nationwide. The National Internet Network project does not compete with private broadband providers, because its aim is digital inclusion and not the provision of broadband access.

For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see: Panama - Telecoms, Mobile, Broadband and Digital Media - Statistics and Analyses

ICT sectors are merging into a new wholesale platform for the networked economy 01 Sep 2015

There certainly is a lot of interest in the IoT (personal devices) and M2M (industrial applications) market. But what we are seeing is only what is happening on the surface. Most of the IoT and M2M activities are taking place unseen. For example, all new electronic devices (smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes, game consoles) are now IoT devices. Wearable technology has also become a thriving part of the IoT industry, with an ever-broadening range of possible uses and devices, including smart watches, glasses, clothing items, skin patches, and even implants for health monitoring.

Tens of millions of smart meters have already been deployed by the electricity industry, with literally hundreds of millions of them in the pipeline. Healthcare is another key industry. All new hospitals now operate large-scale M2M operations, tracking their equipment with real-time information. Most local governments have invested massively in mapping their assets; this is now being followed up by adding connectivity to these assets – whether it be streetlamps, drainage, sewerage or trees, all are in the process of becoming part of a smart city. The number of connected M2M devices in Australia will grow to somewhere between 25 million and 50 million by 2020. Progress is still hampered by lack of standards, interoperability and effective government and industry collaboration.

The intelligent outcome of the use of the various new technologies is known as big data. This can only be achieved through connected information management and data collaboration. Open data systems are therefore critical to its success. Governments are increasing the number of data sets they make available to the public and data collaboration between businesses is also starting to happen.

These intelligent transactions are mostly taking place in the cloud, with data centres forming the intelligent hubs between the clouds. Cloud computing has become one of the fastest-growing areas for the IT sector, and cloud computing solutions are being adopted by enterprises; government and consumers alike. In 2015 cloud computing has become more mainstream, with the majority of large enterprises adopting various solutions. Small and medium-sized businesses still largely need to start on the road to cloud computing, while close to 90% of larger businesses in developed economies have already embraced it. Few people realise the enormous impact that cloud computing is already making.

The other critical element for the future of these ICT developments is the network quality needed for those billions of intelligent transactions between all of the IoT and M2M devices. This data needs to be collected and processed to then deliver executable outcomes with real-time analyses to the IoT and M2M devices and their users, being consumers, businesses, government organisations, utilities, traffic authorities and so on.

In order to successfully implement the emerging networked economy far more robust infrastructure is required than is currently available. The NBN and 4G LTE A(dvanced) – a halfway house on the way to full 5G –  are going to provide that robust infrastructure necessary for high-speed information processing, distributed computing, as well as many other applications that can be processed, analysed and managed – all in real time over a cloud computer-based IT platform. Ubiquitous access, enormous capacity, low latency, robustness and symmetric access, as well as the very high levels of reliability, quality and security, are all critical to the success of such a new communications environment.

The importance of access to infrastructure in these ICT developments is leading to convergence of what are still largely separate sectors (big data, IoT, M2M, cloud computing, data centres and telecoms wholesale). This will lead to mergers and acquisitions between the various companies involved in these activities, and winners and losers will be attached to this process; it will be a very dynamic and rapidly changing market over the next few years.

Social and economic developments are further accelerating, and as more organisations tap into this merged ICT space and more investments are made we will see further astonishing innovations emerge over the next few years.

Over time this will have a major impact on the economy. The emerging networked economy will become decentralised with more innovative new jobs and business opportunities being shared. Smart cities are going to play a key role in this new economy.

Given the current social, economic and political turbulence, it becomes clear that we seem to have reached a ceiling in the way we currently use our intellectual ability to address the complex issues that society is facing.

The need for increased intelligence will lead to a merging of human activities and machines, something that is becoming increasingly possible and is heading towards the broader concept of artificial intelligence (AI). Some of the predictions and scenarios discussed in this context are clearly wrong, and AI as described by the popular media is, if it really happens, at least a century away; nevertheless we are pushing the boundaries of our current level of intelligence capacity and, while most current predictions will lead to totally different outcomes, one thing is certain – things will change.

In the end it is all about people – smart people in charge of all of these processes. What is needed is a vision from the top and smart communities working from the bottom upwards.

A new BuddeComm report offers a wealth of information on the all important ICT developments in the telecoms sector and is a key resource of insights, statistics, examples and trends. For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see: Australia – Big Data, M2M, Cloud Computing and Data Centres

Iran telecoms market after the sanctions are lifted 31 Aug 2015

In recent years, foreign companies were reluctant to invest in Iran’s ICT market due to sanctions placed against it. But with the easing and possible lifting of these sanctions; it is expected that attention will again turn towards this potentially lucrative market.

Current penetration levels indicate room for continued revenue growth. Mobile data services are available but account for a small proportion of total revenue. This is expected to increase over time as mobile data services increasingly underpin future revenue growth, made possible by the launch of 3G/HSPA services. In November 2014 the first 4G LTE network was also launched by MTN Irancell.

Despite the relatively low penetration of fixed broadband in Iran; there are moves underway to improve broadband access, with the FttX operator Iranian-Net currently deploying a fibre network which aims to have 8 million customers by 2020.

Iran has a thriving start-up sector due partially to its reluctance to adopt and promote Western digital media services into the country. As a result a number of digital start-up services have emerged, with just some examples including:

  • Aparat – Iran’s YouTube like services;
  • Crood – Iran’s Facebook like services;
  • Mianblog – Iran’s blogging service;
  • Lenzor – Iran’s photo-sharing service;
  • Yooz – Iran’s own search engine;
  • Esam – Iran’s Ebay like service;
  • ZarinPal – Iran’s PayPal like service;
  • Digikala – similar to Amazon;
  • Cafe Bazaar – Iran’s mobile app store.

One example of a tech start-up operating in Iran is Avatech Accelerator, based in Tehran. The technology start-up sector is one area that may benefit greatly if foreign sanctions are lifted and investors flock to the country.

For more information see: Iran - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband.

NBN Co should open up its networks to others 27 Aug 2015

I strongly support NBN Co plan to allow retailers to buy telecoms services directly from the company.

Telecommunications has gone way beyond the traditional services of telephone calls, internet access and so on. It has become the digital infrastructure for the new economy, an economy that is far more reliant on a smart use of ICT. This includes Gigabit fibre infrastructure, cloud computing, big data, data centres, data analytics, IoT and M2M. The importance of the networked economy goes way beyond the interest of the traditional telecoms industry alone.

The ACCC made a very serious mistake when it gave in to the lobbying of the big telcos to increase the number of POIs (points of interconnect to the NBN) from 4 to 121. By allowing this to happen the ACCC shut the door on anyone other than the big telcos using the NBN for their specific digital services. In other words to deliver national services organisations such Woolworths, Australia Post, Google, Myer and Medicare would have to build their own connections to these POIs in order to deliver digital services to their customers. None of them would be able to build a network to all of those 121 points, and they are forced to use the telcos as the middlemen to get access to this new digital infrastructure. Such has been the result of the clever lobbying carried out by the big telcos back in 2010.

People like me successfully fought hard to at least give public utilities, including healthcare and education, an option to negotiate directly with NBN Co, as this major national investment was made for the social and economic benefit of the country and not just for the benefit of the telecoms industry.

With a utilities-based facility also in place for others – as has now been suggested by NBN Co – wholesale access to the NBN would become a viable option for all who want to utilise the digital economy in the most efficient and effective way; and it would be up to the telcos to come up with real value-added services to entice those other companies and sectors to utilise their services instead of going directly to NBN Co.

The way Telstra is providing services to the healthcare sector is a good example of adding value-add to basic wholesale access.

So I am all in favour of NBN Co rectifying the mistake the ACCC made, and I support its plan to link the POIs together itself in order to better facilitate the potential for opening up the digital networked economy to all. In the end NBN Co still only provides a wholesale service, but we should leave it up to the organisations who depend on the digital economy to make their own decisions about whether they want to go directly to NBN Co for wholesale access or utilise the intermediate (and value-added) services offered by the telcos.

Such a regime, with more open access, would also greatly stimulate competition and innovation.

Paul Budde

See also:

Australia – National Broadband Network – Developments and Analyses 2015

Australia – Fixed Broadband Market – Insights, Statistics and Analysis

The need for smart infrastructure policies 27 Aug 2015

Ever since the beginning, around 2005, of the discussion on what is now the NBN BuddeComm has been suggesting to the government that it embed in these discussions and consequent policies the fact that this is not just another telecoms network to download movies, but a totally smart, but equally physical, infrastructure that can service a range of sectors such as e-commerce, the sharing economy, healthcare and education.

The previous government shared that vision and for example started to look at how the NBN could be used in the development of smart grids. For this purpose they took up our suggestion of the $100 million Smart Grid, Smart City project. Another example was that the then Minister for Infrastructure was asked to investigate how smarts could be embedded in bridges, roads, rail, waterways, tunnels, etc and how the NBN could assist in creating smarter infrastructure. Another example was that Medicare legislation was changed to include certain telehelath consultations and the NBN was also looked at in the context of education.

However all of these initiatives were discontinued after 2013. In May 2015 there was a ray of hope when the current Minister for Infrastructure opened up a new Inquiry on smart infrastructure. Also the setting up of the Digital Transformation Office, while less ambitious, does to a certain extent rectify the situation.

There was a moment of déjà vu when National ICT Australia (NICTA) responded to the smart infrastructure Inquiry with a request to the government to mandate the use of smart ICT infrastructure for projects accepting public funding. The support of this important R&D organisation will hopefully lead to better policies in this area, as the country is wasting valuable opportunities to become a smart country. When smarts are embedded at a greenfield level the extra costs are less than 10%, whereas if infrastructure needs to be retrofitted the costs increase by 30%-50% ( a lesson the government is now also learning from retrofitting the NBN)

Also NICTA believes that underutilisation of infrastructure assets is rife across Australia, in both the private and public sectors. What is needed here is government leadership and vision to include smart requirements to make infrastructure more efficient and effective.

One of the problems we noticed during the 2005-2009 period was that silo thinking was endemic. It was difficult (for this read ‘impossible’) for the minister for communications to convince ministers for infrastructure, healthcare etc to look at the use of ICT across government from a more holistic perspective. Often each of these sectors was trying to build its own infrastructure, developing proprietary solutions, etc – no sharing, no standardisation, no interconnection arrangements.

BuddeComm initiated the set-up of a separate industry group of CEOs to talk to the various ministers, promoting a more holistic approach to the use of ICTs, and in particular the NBN. In 2009, the Prime Minister authorised the Minister for Communications to act on his behalf on ICT-related cross-ministerial issues like this. Only then did we see a change in government policies across the various departments, looking at how ICTs can be used in a more horizontal way, to assist developments across departments. It is a real pity that we could not build on these early initiatives, instead dismantling them, to then, five years or more later, start all over again.

Of course, technology doesn’t get stopped by party politics. The emergence of IoT and M2M are making many of these smart infrastructure projects more and more feasible. The deployment of LTE-A(dvanced) and eventually (after 2020) 5G will further stimulate a full integration of infrastructure into the overall concepts of smart cities and smart countries. This will all happen regardless of government policies, but if we as a country could be smart and build rather than demolish, we could take a leadership role at the front of these developments instead of being relegated to the role of follower and buyer of overseas expertise, products and services developed by organisations in countries with a more visionary leadership.

Paul Budde

See also:

Hong Kong - Affordable broadband underpins the digital economy 26 Aug 2015

Hong Kong’s telecom market continues to develop in line with its status as one of the leading economies in the world. Heading towards 2016, over two thirds of fixed broadband connections are fibre, with the remainder a mix of DSL and HFC. This has propelled Hong Kong to boast the highest peak average broadband speeds in the world, surpassing South Korea, Singapore and Japan.

Broadband proliferation is not just limited to fixed broadband, with three quarters of the population owning a smartphone. With such widespread access to broadband services it is little wonder that Hong Kong has developed a vibrant digital economy, where over half the population has accessed e-government services and the country’s healthcare system has launched a personal healthcare record, giving patients control over their data and supporting effective and efficient provision of healthcare services. Digital media, often the frontrunner of any digital economy, is well entrenched in Hong Kong with both legal and illegal streaming music and video in high demand.

The benefits of integrating technology into utilities is becoming evident; smart grid trials have shown consumers are willing to modify electricity consumption patterns in response to near real time feedback about usage. At the same time the government has taken the first steps towards coordinated development of a smart city, releasing a blueprint to oversee integration of technology into all aspects of everyday life to improve liveability and sustainability.

Underpinning delivery of these new digital economy services is increasing affordability and sophistication of end user devices and IOT connected sensors as well as continual investment in network infrastructure to connect devices reliably and with minimal delay, through new submarine cables as well as integration of new mobile related technologies designed to improve wireless broadband capacity and service quality.

For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see: Hong Kong – Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband

More from Paul's desk from the BuddeBlog…

Costa Rica - ICE merges Cable Visión with Kölbi brand 19 Aug 2015

Since Costa Rica’s telecom sector was liberalised it has shown considerable growth in the number of subscribers for all services. Competition was slow to develop, leaving the state owned operator ICE with a monopoly for a number of years, though there is now effective competition in all sectors. ICE remains the dominant provider of fixed-line services, while its subsidiary RACSA offers broadband via cable modem and WiMAX services.

The number of fixed-lines has fallen in recent years, though the decline has been offset by growing consumer use of VoIP services. This has been stimulated by the recent hike in tariffs for fixed-line calls. The mobile market was liberalised in late 2011, and since then the major new competitors Claro and Movistar have captured a growing proportion of the market.

Costa Rica’s broadband market is the most developed in Central America, with the highest broadband penetration for this sub-region. Geographical distribution however is unequal, with a much higher digital gap than in the case of telephone services. Compared with the whole of Latin America, Costa Rica’s broadband penetration lags behind Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and some Caribbean islands.

The regulator has documented steady increase in overall telecom sector revenue in recent years, with a 17% growth in both 2012 and 2013, climbing to 34% in 2014. Fixed-line voice services accounted for about 5% of revenue in 2014 while revenue from VoIP services, though increasing sharply in recent years, accounted for only 1%. Total investment by operators was equal to 1% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while revenue accounted for 3% of GDP in 2014.

The Costa Rican telecom sector has showed greater resilience than most in the region, and with the implementation of number portability there is greater scope for increased competition in coming years.

The DTT market continues to develop, with the first digital broadcast made in 2012, though there are as yet few subscribers to the service. The switch to DTTV is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.

For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see: Costa Rica - Telecoms, Mobile, Broadband and Digital Media - Statistics and Analyses

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