Government initiatives to drive broadband infrastructure are nothing new in Asia Pacific, but recent initiatives in Australia, Singapore and New Zealand have raised the profile of private-public partnerships as a way to get broadband to every home and build a next-generation network capable of supporting it.
But with all the fuss over fiber, the wireless sector is feeling left out - and wants governments considering national broadband infrastructure initiatives to stop treating wireless like a cash cow to be milked and more like an additional tool to connecting everyone with broadband.
Michael Bjarhov, Asia-Pacific director of government and industry relations at Ericsson, said during a panel session at the Next Generation Broadband Forum Summit at CommunicAsia that governments mapping out broadband initiatives are too obsessed with fiber and not giving mobile its due as a broadband solution.
'We see a lot of government support for rolling out FTTx, but they get carried away with the idea of trying to connect all the homes,' he said. 'They forget that in the next few years, 80% of broadband connections will be mobile.'
Bjarhov said HSPA, and eventually LTE, is a cost-effective way to connect rural areas with multi-megabit data connections, citing advances in smaller, lower-cost rural base stations that run on alternative power.
He admitted that fiber delivers far more bandwidth - hundreds of megabits versus LTE's expected average peak rates of 10-20 Mbps in its initial incarnation.
'But 10-20 Mbps will be sufficient for most people,' he said.
Bjarhov said part of the problem was that governments tend to treat mobile as a short-term gain to make money via spectrum auctions and extra charges for everything from import duties and USF fees to SIM taxes.
'They're trying to fund fiber projects and make money on spectrum,' he said. 'They need to take a more holistic view where fiber and mobile broadband are two parts of the same solution.'
Peter Waters, partner at Gilbert + Tobin, notes that some governments favor fiber over wireless because they're focused on speeds, but agrees that they are missing a crucial point.
'The economies of scale with mobile broadband in Asia will have an enormous impact,' he says. 'I think some ministers are missing that. They shouldn't underestimate LTE, because it will evolve too.'
The new PSTN
Another aspect of public-private NBN ventures that shouldn't be underestimated, Waters added, is the potential impact of government investment in next-gen infrastructure, which is being viewed as the next natural monopoly in the telecoms sector.
Waters said that while government investment in NGN to some extent was inevitable, as are infrastructure monopolies, how the networks are designed to ensure private competition is not inevitable, and it needs to be discussed now.
'NGN is the new PSTN, and the decisions made now will impact competition in the next 20 years,' he says.
Waters recommends tackling the investment question by layer.