Telecommunications, Information and Communication technologies (ICTs) have been widely recognized as a driver of economic and social development, poverty reduction and wealth creation. Telecommunications/ICTs provide an opportunity for developing countries to facilitate trade and economic development in general, as well as business development and job creation, especially for poor and marginalized populations, including women, indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities.
By Cisco Eng. Shingie Lev Muringi
However; developing countries often face challenges of rapid pace of change of technologies and convergence, financial resources, lack of suitable technical experience in planning and deploying advanced technologies and networks.
Infrastructure is central to achieving the goal of digital inclusion, enabling universal, sustainable, ubiquitous and affordable access to ICTs and services for all. The ICT sector is characterized by rapid technological change, and by convergence of technological platforms for telecommunications, information delivery, broadcasting and computing.
The deployment of common network infrastructures for multiple telecommunication services and applications and the evolution to all IP-based wireless and wired next-generation networks (NGNs) open up opportunities but also imply significant challenges for developing countries.
The provision of access to ICTs in rural and remote areas remains a particular challenge confronting governments, regulators and operators in developing countries. The World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), 2003, Declaration of Principles (Paragraph 22), highlights the existence of coherent telecommunication networks and services at the national, regional, interregional and global levels, for the development of national economies as an important element in the improvement of the socio-economic status of countries especially of developing countries.
Establishing telecommunication infrastructure, countries have already invested heavily in the traditional public switched telephone network (PSTN) and public land mobile network (PLMN) networks and are now facing challenges in migration from existing networks in urban areas to advanced networks such as NGNs.
To meet this challenge, they need the financial resources and technical skill sets to prepare for a smooth migration to NGN and introduction of new content rich multimedia services. Migration from conventional networks to a NGN platform requires techno-economic considerations both at the core and access network levels.
The access network is one of the key components in providing broadband services, which has the potential of becoming a serious bottleneck for the delivery of multimedia applications. It is recognized that the access network is one of the most expensive components of telecommunication infrastructure compared to other parts of the network, for both developing and developed countries.
The access network, therefore, needs to be accorded due consideration when looking into the readiness of a telecommunication network infrastructure for migration toward NGN. In the absence of proper access network planning, it would be challenging for a NGN migration strategy to succeed. Consequently, the access network is one of the main focus areas in migration to NGN. NGN is considered an affordable solution for the development of rural communications, and bridging the digital divide.
The need for development of telecommunication infrastructure in rural areas is obvious, as Best practices for implementing next-generation networks in the Asia and Pacific region 2 a large proportion of the population, especially in most developing countries, reside in rural areas which have special requirements for reliable and affordable telecommunication infrastructure due to remoteness, difficult terrain, and scattered population.
In addition, the majority of the population living in rural areas, having low literacy levels, need multimedia services to facilitate easy access to relevant information and services. Today, NGN is considered a social infrastructure on which broadband services can be provided, opening new opportunities in the telecommunication industry.
Countries can benefit from NGN deployment with a wide range of advanced ICT-based services and applications in building the information society; implementing systems for public protection and disaster relief during emergency communication, especially early warning systems for dissemination of emergency information; and, improving access to information and knowledge in the rural areas and empowering marginalized communities for digital inclusion.
Adopted at the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC, Doha, 2006), the Doha Action Plan (DAP) includes a regional initiative on “NGN planning” in the Asia-Pacific region aiming to assist developing countries of the region in the smooth migration from existing networks to NGN, considering NGN as a potential tool for rural communications. It was also requested that ITU play an important role by using the study group process, a collection of best practices and through practical advice and assistance from the ITU Regional Office for Asia and Pacific.
The World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC, Hyderabad, 2010) adopted the Hyderabad Action Plan (HAP) which includes five regional initiatives for the Asia-Pacific region. Regional Initiative 4 seeks ITU assistance to developing countries in the region for broadband adoption and the use of broadband technologies to propel innovation and new services.
However, the challenge of bridging the digital divide is compounded by disparities in broadband access and infrastructure between and within countries especially between urban and rural areas. It envisages broadband access and uptake in both urban and rural areas taking into consideration the need for development of ICT infrastructure based on which governments are better able to provide e-government services to their citizens, which improve transparency, accountability, utilization of resources and access to governmental services, including health and education. The scope of this regional initiative covers migration from legacy circuit switched networks to NGN, and fulfils the mandate of the ITU Asia-Pacific Regional Initiative on Broadband Access and Uptake in Urban and Rural Areas.
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