Cost stopping internet upgrades
Money is at the heart of improving internet capacity in the Pacific, according to Huawei director and transformation officer David Morrison, in Samoa this week for the Asia Pacific Telecommunity Forum.
The 11th A.P.T forum on policy and regulations in the Pacific, held at the T.A.T.T.E convention centre is intended to provide a platform for Pacific nations to discuss communication and I.C.T issues and solutions.
One of those issues is high capacity internet like 4G, 4.5G and even 5G.
Mr Morrison said deploying infrastructure to support it is easy, but it’s the cost that is prohibitive.
“In a country like Samoa, they could have 4G access on both islands tomorrow, if they wanted to, it’s just can they afford to do it and who is then going to do the deployment?”
Digicel, Bluesky, and the Electrical Power Corporations are all viable options for deployment, said Mr Morrison, and the private sector or another government could step up to foot the bill.
“Huawei or the Chinese banks could probably do the funding, but there would probably be caveats, as you’ve probably been reading in the papers,” he said.
But telecommunications companies “hold countries to ransom”, Mr Morrison said, by keeping their customers on 2G and 3G networks with no investment in improving services.
“There is a monopoly by certain telcos in some of the Pacific Islands and I think that’s an issue,” he said.
Regulations like making demands on telecoms on their connection milestones and penalising them for not meeting those demands can help speed up the process of getting a country like Samoa connected to faster internet.
“I can see that the telcos have too much of a hold on the environment here and that means they’re not thinking outside the square enough, and they don’t need to because the population doesn’t know any better, and the legislation and regulation doesn’t know any better either,” Mr Morrison said.
Telecoms should cut off their 2G and 3G networks to make space for 4G, instead of “milking the cow,” he continued.
“The telcos are making the maximum amount of money out of their legacy technology rather than investing in new technology.
“They are inhibiting the economy of the country. That’s the bottom line.”
Mr Morrison stressed not every telecom is intentional in this choice, some just don’t know the potential.
But on a government level, not knowing exactly why graduating to a 4G network is worthwhile is also holding some countries back.
Mr Morrison said sometimes, people need to be taught why they need a certain product, and 4G exemplifies that. Telenor, a Norwegian telecommunications company learned that lesson in Asia and the Middle East.
“For example, one of the major exports in Bangladesh are workers in construction.
“Telenor realised that in order to promote 4G within the Middle East they needed to somehow incentivise the local workers to use 4G rather than 2G or 3G, so they promoted video calling back to their families in Bangladesh.”
A better network doesn’t just mean more profit making products for the telecoms, Mr Morrison said. Mobile money and connecting international business are just some of the ways internet contributes to economic development of a country as a whole.
“If I want to bring the population forward, I do need to consider education and access to the internet to make that happen. 2G and 3G just aren’t good enough to do that,” he said.
Mr Morrison believes it might be a case of a population not knowing it needs an improvement, but teaching people to embrace a certain quality of connection is essential to economic and social development.