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Broadband access in the era of global convergence

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Added 19th October 2018 10:26 AM

Technology has become more interconnected over the years, converging the broadcasting, telecommunications and information technology industries.

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Eng. Godfrey Mutabazi

Technology has become more interconnected over the years, converging the broadcasting, telecommunications and information technology industries.

By Eng. Godfrey Mutabazi

Over the years, the communication landscape has evolved from an era dominated by newspapers and radio broadcasts, through the era of telephone switchboards into the current times of fast paced, highly vivid, instant and interactive landscape. 

Technology has become more interconnected over the years, converging the broadcasting, telecommunications and information technology industries.

We have come from having single-purpose networks where voice, audio, data and video were once completely singular communication media and moved to converged, multi-purpose networks where all these are now commonly deployed across one converged network.

Technology has also changed the way the world connects, how consumers’ digest information, how we live and work and has even transcended into the physical world. Today, the world is talking about Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is characterised by a fusion of technologies that blurs the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres.

Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, autonomous vehicles and drones, the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, 3D printing and biotechnology are now a reality.

The transformative effect of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) has been likened to the experience with the steam engine and electricity, in that they not only have a potential to disrupt existing social systems as well as the entire economic system, but present large potentials of improvements and innovation complementarities of these.

The continued development of the capabilities of ICTs is driving the use of cutting-edge technologies to power various innovations in the public and private sector, in business and in society.

ICTs have thus developed a generic use across an immense array of sectors and activities.

Today, we are witnessing how ICTs are transforming health, education, security, environment, economics and even, the backbone of our economy - agriculture. In recognition of this transformative effect, ICTs are deemed to possess enormous potential to fast forward progress on the realisation of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and improve people's lives in fundamental ways. 

Dr. William Lehr of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US noted that the forces ICTs unleash have global impact that affect all nations, all sectors and everyone – regardless of whether one is actively engaged or merely a spectator in the digital transformation underway. 
 
As a country, we cannot afford to be left behind. We need to position ourselves to reap these benefits of ICTs.  Infrastructure has been recognised as a key backbone in this quest.   

Therefore, we need to have in place the right ICT infrastructure.  In Uganda currently, we have succeeded in achieving mobile broadband coverage of 79% of the population, in a country where more than 52% is below the age of 18 years. 

However, a big part of the country remains uncovered.

Under the fourth industrial revolution, it is envisaged that everything that can be connected, will be connected.  We shall have embedded sensors collecting and transmitting data from machines and robots as well as real-time information sharing and high volumes of data across networks. 

There is, therefore, need for the ultra-high speed, low latency connectivity and ultra-reliable communications infrastructure.

Governments and the global industry are in a race to develop technologies and networks that deliver a ‘Gigabit Society’. This implies that every home, business, vehicle and mobile device is capable of tapping into data throughput speeds of up to 1000Mbps, or 125MBps, with incredibly low latency. 

Buzz such as fifth generation mobile (5G) technology and fibre to the home and business are common in this respect.

In Uganda, broadband today is largely 3G mobile technology with parts of the country still under 2G coverage, which is looked at as ideal for voice services but not data.

What are the challenges to Broadband development in Uganda?

ICT infrastructure is expensive to build. 

  • In light of changed market structures and low consumption of modern services like data, how do we raise the capital required to set up the kind of infrastructure that will enable us enjoy the opportunities extended by ICTs? 

 

  • How do we increase the demand for and productive use of broadband in Uganda, to cover the costs of operation of the networks and drive further investment required to bring the networks to the quality required? 

 
Some of the factors that have been identified as contributors to this situation are:

  • Low appreciation of the benefits and opportunities available with ICTs;

  • low levels of digital literacy;

  • affordability of Internet-enabled terminals, for example: smartphones;  

 

  • locally insufficient relevant digital content and applications, for example: e-commerce, e-government services and local film media.

Striving ahead

Uganda recognises the value of ICTs in its quest to achieve the national vision of “A Transformed Ugandan society from a peasant to a modern and prosperous country within 30 years”.  Vision 2040 looks to continuously build robust ultra-high speed, pervasive, intelligent and trusted high-speed ICT infrastructure all over the country in line with the changing technologies.

 The future

 Uganda Communications Commission’s strategy emphasises the role of broadband in facilitating the development of the National Broadband Network in Uganda.

It underpins Uganda’s future prosperity through a robust communications policy. This policy is aimed at finding new ways to assist communities that seek to ensure that their citizens have the broadband capacity they need to advance economic development, education, health care and public safety, among others.

Uganda Communications Commission, as the regulator of the country’s communications sector, is keen to ensure access to quality, high-speed broadband services for all Ugandans. This is aimed at facilitating global competitiveness, innovation, increased productivity in both the public and private sector and sustainable national development. 

It is hoped that this will be achieved through the operators, partnerships and the Rural Communications Development Fund, complemented by other relevant Government initiatives.

We recognise the value of embracing all technologies in this quest and incorporate these in our regulatory planning - Optical fiber, satellite technology, mobile cellular technologies and other wireless technologies. 

Together with our stakeholders and our partners, we believe that a Ugandan Gigabit society is possible.

The writer is the Executive Director of the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) – the regulator of the communications sector in Uganda)

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