GSMA: spectrum costs holding back worldwide mobile connectivity

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The GSMA has warned that high spectrum prices in developing countries are actively contributing to a lack of affordable, high quality connectivity.

According to its latest report, 3.3 billion people (44 per cent) had access to mobile broadband at the end of 2017 – an increase of 300 million year on year. 

However, four billion people still aren’t connected, the majority of which are in low income countries.

GSMA spectrum

The findings are based on a study of more than 1,000 spectrum assignments in 102 countries between 2010 and 2017. Overall, the GSMA found that spectrum is three times more expensive in less developed nations than in more developed ones, as governments - particularly those with high debts – seek to maximise the direct financial benefits of licences rather than the indirect economic advantages. 

The GSMA claims the result is that mobile operators have less money to spend on network infrastructure and that there is a direct link between high spectrum prices and poor coverage and lower quality services. Other problems include the lack of a coherent spectrum roadmap and restrictive auction rules.

And this is exacerbating a digital divide, with poorer nations unable to harness the benefits of the digital economy.

“Connecting everyone becomes impossible without better policy decisions on spectrum,” said Brett Tarnutzer, Head of Spectrum, GSMA. “For far too long, the success of spectrum auctions has been judged on how much revenue can be raised rather than the economic and social benefits of connecting people.

“Spectrum policies that inflate prices and focus on short-term gains are incompatible with our shared goals of delivering better and more affordable mobile broadband services. These pricing policies will only limit the growth of the digital economy and make it harder to eradicate poverty, deliver better healthcare and education, and achieve financial inclusion and gender equality.”

The availability and cost of spectrum is one of the GSMA’s biggest areas of policy, but such issues are not restricted to developing countries. The infamous UK 3G auction of 2000 raised billions for the government but meant operators lacked the financial ability to build the networks.