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Bridging the Communications Gap

June 4, 2012

It’s going to take a lot of green to bring Asia up to speed as far as communications equipment goes.  At least that’s according to the people who’d like to sell it to you.

Asia has been warned that it will need to invest USD $1.1 trillion in telecom infrastructure by the end of the decade in order to compete in the digital economy by Alcatel-Lucent Asia Pacific president Rajeev Singh-Molares.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum on East Asia 2012 in Bangkok last week, Singh-Molares warned that the unprecedented growth of urbanization in most Asian mega cities is straining infrastructure and demanding national broadband solutions.

I’m not surprised at the number, since the infrastructure there is woefully under-provisioned for the mass of people joining.  The problems inherent with any communications roll-out.  If you’re not up to speed on some of the technical challenges, here are a few things to think about:

  • There’s not enough copper in the Earth to wire Asia.  Probably not even China.  And the problems of laying out expensive cable are vast.  I had an old VP who used to say that as fast as China could bury cable, it was likely that there would be people to dig it up and sell it for scrap.  That’s facetious, but the point is somewhat valid.
  • So wireless: funny thing about spectrum… at some point you have to choose a point on the three-axis chart of bandwidth, distance, and users.  So, you can do a small cell that covers lots of people with a little bit of data, or a large cell that covers few people with moderate data… you get the idea.  Advancements in wireless capability will come slowly, and when spectrum starts to get covered, you’re stuck with what you have.
  • On that spectrum, there are plenty of places that would just be happy to rip and replace on a regular basis.  Japan did that at least once where they replaced every cell phone in the country as they upgraded the infrastructure.  That might work in Japan, but I seriously doubt you could scale that to billions of people in Asia in any affordable way.
  • Oh, and you also have to provide some form of service and support, and let’s not assume that this is a technologically sophisticated crowd.  Heck, the US is hard enough.

So this isn’t going to be an easy play.  And you have to wonder, does it really make sense to connect everyone in every city?  At what point does the infrastructure just stop working for the scale that has to occur?  The article points to 1.3 Billion people who will be connected on top of the 1.5 Billion already there.  That’s a scale that’s hard to comprehend.

So the next time you pick up the cell to make a call or grab a map, be thankful that you’re already in the connected minority.  The costs of doing the rest are going to be a global burden that is hard to comprehend.  It’s likely that we’ll all pay a price for it in some way, and that’s going to strain the world economy even more.

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