Ericsson pushes mobile broadband

Johannesburg, 07 Oct 2009
Read time 3min 50sec

Broadband should be a basic right, available to everyone to access at anytime, says Robert Wuestenenk, director of broadband networks at Ericsson.

“There is only 10% penetration in terms of data in Africa, so there's a huge opportunity for growth,” he adds

According to Wuestenenk, broadband benefits society in a number of ways, by promoting industry growth, sustainable communities, and government and enterprise efficiency.

“In Rwanda, for example, broadband technology is being used to enable e-governance, while MTN's @ccess Internet cafes allow those in SA's rural areas to search and apply for jobs,” says Wuestenenk.

“We live in a society where we want instant gratification. People aren't willing to wait for a service and this is where mobile is a huge factor in the roll-out of data networks in Africa.”

Ericsson cites research by ConsumerLab, involving 5 000 Internet users in five countries, of which 82% reported using the Internet several times a day. Half of the respondents said having high-speed Internet everywhere was important, while 48% agreed a computer without Internet had no value.

Wuestenenk says broadband growth has been impressive in 2009, with just under 500 million broadband fixed line subscriptions worldwide. Ericsson predicts mobile broadband will make up 80% of all subscriptions in 2014.

For Africa, by Africa

Konstantinos Tzingakis, director of innovations and new business services at Ericsson, says it is exploring the use of broadband to further other technologies, from simple SMS systems to IPTV.

He adds that the company is involved in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, including fighting poverty and promoting environmental sustainability, through the use of technology in villages in 10 African countries. He cites examples such as a solar village charger which charges up to 20 phones overnight.

According to Tzingakis, the company brought in some of the research and development (R&D) capacity in Montreal and Sweden to develop products and services for Africa, by Africa, but with global appeal.

“One innovation involves the ability to conduct and publish a survey anywhere, anytime, on any device,” says Tzingakis. This allows people to capture data and publish it publically, which could be useful for distributing information such as healthcare statistics.

Another service addresses the fact that billions of people worldwide do not own a handset. “Individuals can get their own mobile number, borrow someone else's phone, and receive calls to that number for the period they temporarily 'own' the device. It's useful in rural situations where people can't afford handsets.”

Applying the same technology in a first-world scenario, Tzingakis says people could use it to keep two numbers on a single phone, one for business calls and the other for personal.

Eyeing evolution

Ericsson sees long-term evolution (LTE) technology as the next step in wireless development. While companies such as Intel are pushing WiMax as the next step towards 4G mobile connectivity, Ericsson believes LTE offers more range and function.

“LTE is more mobile, while WiMax is restricted to the area users are subscribed to,” notes Wuestenenk.

WiMax may be easier to roll out now, as it has a head start on LTE networks, but LTE can fall back on 3G and 2G networks when a user goes out of LTE range, according to Thabiso Thukani, Ericsson regional manager of the regulatory affairs market unit, sub-Saharan Africa.

He believes WiMax is a limited mobility solution, and more of a complement to wireline services, as the technology has no voice or roaming component.

“The driving force behind the use of broadband is the accessibility of end-user devices,” says Wuestenenk, adding this is driving the move towards handsets, because people typically use broadband on a laptop or computer-based platform.

He admits operators are biding their time and waiting for the cost of LTE to come down. “More than likely we'll see pilot projects by the middle of next year.”

According to Tzingakis, future broadband possibilities could include users being notified of an incoming call while watching TV, with a video feed of the person talking. “A lot of R&D is being done into linking everything and greater convergence, such as transferring content from a phone to an entertainment system. The more things that can talk to one another, the better.”

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