An overview of three telecoms and ICT trends that are likely to eventuate in the medium term, as recently reported by the International Telecommunications Union.
Earlier this week, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) announced the release of the latest edition of its annual global ICT regulatory report, Trends in Telecommunication Reform 2016. This report examines a broad range of ICT policy and regulatory trends, along with capturing the views of top experts from a variety of fields, which in turn provides considerable insight into the challenges and opportunities ICT stakeholders are facing, and are likely to face over the next three to five years.
The report is over 170 pages, and so is chock full of numerous insights and findings and may be worth the read for those keen to undertake more thorough study. To varying degrees many of the trends might appear more relevant for developed countries, and not Small Island Developing States, such as those in the Caribbean. However, in the paragraphs below we have sought to highlight three telecoms/ICT trends that are likely to reach across the North-South divide and transform the world as we know it.
1. Competition among carriers and service providers is changing
A key takeaway from the report is the fact that in order to better harness the potential of our digital age, current regulatory models that rely upon competitive forces between players in the market to drive development may be counterproductive at best, and cannot be sustained at worst. There is growing evidence of strategic partnerships being established with non-traditional players in the telecoms space, such as hedge funds, alternative financial institutions, content and services providers, to support the continuous investment in infrastructure.
Additionally, and according to the ITU, as “network coverage becomes less of a competitive differentiator, operators may need to consolidate networks (through network sharing) as a means of moving away from infrastructure investment and towards developing innovative services”. However, when that happens and as indicated above, the competitive climate is likely to change, possibly resulting in, among other things, reduced competition,; more collusion and information sharing among players, and reduced options for services-based competitors (Source: ITU).
2. IoT is happening and will become even more prevalent in the medium to long term
To some degrees, there is a sense that the Internet of Things (IoT) has not yet touched the Caribbean. However, increasingly we are acquiring devices that can support machine-to-machine communication, and the market for IoT devices is expected to grow exponentially over the next three or so years.
Having said this, the ITU is of the view that realising the full potential of the IoT will be fraught with technical and regulatory challenges and opportunities. For example, for IoT to be truly effective and have the societal impact envisaged, even larger interconnected networks and interoperable systems than what currently obtains are required. However, it also means that technical matters related to connectivity and addressing, for example, will need to be resolved in order to support the larger, interconnected and interoperable networks and systems that must exist.
3. Interoperability will become even more crucial
Following from the previous trends, interoperability will become even more crucial as the IoT and network sharing, among other developments become even more established. Further, the ITU is emphasising that the term ‘‘interoperability’ is no longer limited to the technical compatibility of telecoms devices, but has “implications across all four key levels – technological, data, human and institutional” (Source: ITU):
- technological – by fostering increased technical interconnectivitiy of diverse systems
- data – by supporting a wider variety of data, including the adoption of standards that would facilitate greater cohesion and engagement across systems
- human – by making it easier for people to leverage those interconnected systems, and
- Institutional – by both private and public organisations being more open and transparent about the types of systems and services that can interconnect.
Some closing thoughts…
In summary, for the above trends to be fully realised, globally, we ultimately might have to move towards a more homogenous telecoms and ICT environment. However, it means that current business models and practices, the insularity that obtains between nations, along with today’s policy and regulatory frameworks and practices, will also have to change.
Interestingly, and from a Caribbean perspective, many of our policymakers and regulators are still trying to catch up with the current landscape, and to varying degrees are trying to implement legislative changes to narrow the chasm between the market and the regulatory framework. However, with the protracted legislative process that obtains across most of the region, by the time the current round of amendments are made, the environment would have evolved, possibly leaving us all even more out of touch and ill-equipped to tackle the issues of the day.
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