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Written by Thomas Panos
on 11 Sep 2017

Today's audiences want networks that facilitate superfast Internet speeds especially since new age devices (and appliances) rely heavily on robust connectivity. Whether supporting video streaming, online gaming, social media, music streaming platforms, or an always-accessible cloud, the telecommunications industry is expected to deliver seamless, high-speed Internet access to populations around the world.

But how do telecom operators overcome specific challenges arising due to geographic diversity and population density?

These challenges are best met when governments and private corporations work together to bring the benefits of modern telecommunications infrastructure to all citizens. Theoretically, this allows everyone to have equal access to services across regions.

 

Why a Robust Telecom Infrastructure is Important

Broadband is key to enabling transformations in the way we work, learn, live, and take care of our citizens. Some have compared broadband to what the railroads did in the United States back in the late 1800s.

Just like railroads, broadband too requires significant investment to build new infrastructure. But the real value of that investment comes from the economic ecosystem that evolves and grows around it. Upgrades to our infrastructure, as well as investment in emerging technologies is critical to further enabling the information economy.

 

How Infrastructure Impacts Access

Access to basic infrastructure has long been linked to economic growth. This now also includes access to the Internet, which the United Nations declared a human right in 2016.

For governments and telecom infrastructure providers, the goal is to build efficient and effective networks across nations. However, urban areas with denser populations and rural areas with sparse populations create additional challenges-both geopolitical and economic.

This is increasingly becoming an issue in the U.S., which has the third-largest population in the world. A sound telecom infrastructure must be developed throughout the country and support varying levels of population density. As a result, someone living in rural Illinois should have access to the same Internet speeds as a resident of greater Chicago area. In the current scenario, this is a challenge. The availability of infrastructure impacts Internet speeds, mobile coverage, and broadband access. And the type of infrastructure available is often based on the population size.

Companies such as Facebook and Alphabet hope to use drones, balloons, and space satellites to increase Internet access across rural and hard-to-reach regions around the world (in parts of Africa and South America, for example). Taking a slightly different approach, SpaceX has proposed a satellite network in non-geostationary orbit that would beam down data to either base stations or individual devices.

 

Challenges Facing Equal Infrastructure Opportunities

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the U.S. is its size and population. Other challenges include the cost of building and maintaining telecom networks. Also, the time taken to plan, engineer, and construct networks is another significant obstacle.

While technological advancements will help provide some relief with regard to the cost of implementing infrastructure, it will always be a significant expenditure requiring solid return on investment.

In July last year, the Federal Communications Commission unanimously decided to make high frequency radio spectrums above 24GHz available for upcoming 5G networks, with the U.S. becoming the first country in the world to open up spectrum for a long overdue upgrade.

5G cellular upgrades in the U.S. will cost nearly $104 billion between 2015 and 2025, according to research firm iGR.

While service carriers are required to contribute a significant chunk towards infrastructure upgrade, they are being squeezed by intense competition that is lowering prices and revenues.

 

A Fast-moving, Data-hungry Market

The pace of technological change does not make it easy for telecom companies to slowly build new revenue streams. The advent of 5G in wireless and the continued roll-out of fiber optic cable for wireline networks is not being undertaken to just to give customers the latest gadgets-it's a requirement for data-heavy technologies using these networks.

Industry experts expect global Internet traffic to continue to grow in the coming years. This growth will be driven by media streaming, faster 5G mobile networks, the Internet of Things, big data, and cloud-based applications.

To keep up, network operators need government support in the form of national infrastructure plans, local planning allowances for radio and telephony masts and cable, and fiber-laying projects and investment where possible. They also need to ensure that competition spurs innovation and alliances with new and unusual market entrants, as well as lower prices.

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