Telecommunications infrastructure

Updates

13 Sep 2017

Financial support will be provided for local wireless access points in the EU under the project WiFi4EU, free of charge and without discriminatory conditions. The funds will be used in a “geographically balanced manner” in more than 6000 communities across member states on a “first come, first served” basis. Connection will be available in centres of public life, including outdoor spaces accessible to the general public, libraries, public administration and hospitals.

24 Aug 2017

Google will roll out free Wi-Fi hotspots across hundreds of venues in Indonesia. The program called Google station will focus on public spaces like railway and bus stations. Google works with a range of partners that include ISPs and venue owners that operate the hotspots locally. The project started in India in 2016. Although the hotspots are free to use, they serve as an advertising platform and can be monetised eventually. 

9 Aug 2017

Nepal Telecom announced that Nepal is now receiving optical fibre connectivity from China. This project ends country’s dependence on the Indian monopoly for Internet bandwidth. The construction works were delayed several times due to an avalanche and other problems connected with operations in high altitudes and mountainous terrain. It is yet unknown whether the new Internet connection will be without restrictions that are imposed on the Internet by Chinese government in its own country. 

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The telecommunications infrastructure is a physical medium through which all Internet traffic flows. Therefore, there are number of related policy issues including reaching out to end user - especially in the rural and remote areas, liberalisation of the telecommunication and services market, investments in the development of further intercontinental fibre backbone links, and the establishment and harmonisation of the technical standards. Since the telecommunication infrastructure is predominantly privately owned, there is a strong interplay of corporate sector, governments and international organisations in global debates.


Internet data can travel over a diverse range of communication media: telephone wires, fibre-optic cables, satellites, microwaves, and mobile telecommunications technology. Even the standard electric grid can be used to relay Internet traffic utilising power line technology.

The way in which telecommunication is regulated impacts Internet governance directly. The telecommunications infrastructure is regulated at both national and international level by a variety of public and private organisations. The key international organisations involved in the regulation of telecommunications include the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which developed rules for coordination among national telecommunication systems, the allocation of the radio spectrum, and the management of satellite positioning; and the World Trade Organization (WTO), which played a key role in the liberalisation of telecommunication markets worldwide.

The roles of the ITU and the WTO are quite different. The ITU sets detailed voluntary technical standards and telecommunication-specific international regulations, and provides assistance to developing countries. The WTO provides a framework for general market rules.

Following liberalisation, the ITU’s near monopoly as the principal standards setting institution for telecommunications was eroded by other professional bodies and organisations. At the same time, large telecommunication companies – such as AT&T, Vodafone, Telefonica, Orange, Tata Communications, and Level 3 Communications – were given the opportunity to globally extend their market coverage. Since most Internet traffic is carried over the telecommunication infrastructures of such companies, they have an important influence on Internet developments.

Convergence of telecommunications infrastructure

The Internet can be structured into three basic layers. A technical infrastructure layer (physical), a transport layer (standards, protocols) and an application and content layer (www, apps). A good interaction of the first two layers is crucial from the perspective of telecommunications.

In order to use and further develop the telecommunications infrastructure efficiently, there was a need to bridge two worlds with different needs - telecommunications and computers. This issue was solved by a technical standard called Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). TCP/IP works over the infrastructure; all applications work over TCP/IP. Nowadays, the major part of telecommunication infrastructure is built to fit the needs of digital communication and the Internet.

Best effort vs Quality of Service

The telecommunications infrastructure has been growing rapidly over the last 60 years. The very first networks were built as end-to-end connections. This ensured the link between two end-points was stable, fully available (dedicated), and was able to offer ‘quality of service’. The need to connect as many end-points as possible and the increase in the volume of data flow required a change in this approach.

Today, the connectivity is provided to everyone, but some technical aspects (speed, stability, delay etc.) of the connection are not guaranteed. This principle is called ‘best effort’. The closer to the end-point, the higher probability the customer is served under the best effort approach. Given that bandwidth is shared, Fair Use Policies (FUPs) can be applied, certain types of data can be prioritised (even under the net neutrality provisions), and many more limits can be used.

The convergence of infrastructure and computer networks is possible thanks to the TCP/IP protocol which works on the best effort principle. This means that almost the whole Internet works on the best effort principle. The technical development in all three layers of the Internet seeks to emulate the Quality of Service as much as possible. While there can be a satisfactory level of quality of Internet connectivity, there are still cases where current technical solutions can be insufficient. For example remote surgeries, aviation, military use, etc.

The last mile

The telecommunications infrastructure faces a problem of how to reach the end user. The access networks to the Internet should be dense, designed and built systematically in order to lead to all customers (even hypothetical ones). They have to overcome obstacles of public spaces (roads, buildings, rural areas, and prices for deployment). This issue is called the ‘last mile’. The common solution how to bridge the last mile is to use an already built infrastructure like copper wires, cable TV or mobile networks. Such an infrastructure is often in the hands of a monopolistic operator. The governments and regulatory bodies usually solve this issue by ordering the operators to rent their loops (local loop unbundling).

Cable vs wireless

The technical advancements in the last decade empowered the idea that broadband access to the Internet would be possible through wireless connections. Accepting that there are obvious positive sides of such connectivity, there are also several aspects to be aware of. The air is a shared medium and therefore requires higher regulation of its electromagnetic spectrum part. A wireless connection is endangered by interference from various sources (weather conditions, outer space radiation, etc.) and is more likely to be vulnerable to external attacks (hacking, spying, sabotage etc.). In terms of quality and speed, at this moment any wireless connection is unable to compete with cable infrastructure.

Events

Actors

(ITU, UIT)

Information and communication infrastructure development is one of ITU's priority areas.

...

Information and communication infrastructure development is one of ITU's priority areas. The organisation seeks to assist member states in the implementation and development of broadband and next generation networks, as well as in the provision of telecommunications networks in rural areas. Through its Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R), the ITU is involved in the global management of the radio frequency spectrum and satellite orbits, used for telecommunications services, in line with the Radio Regulations. ITU's International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) have as overall aim the facilitation of global interconnection and interoperability of telecommunication facilities. Study groups within the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) work on developing standards for telecommunications networks.

(BCSD)

The Commission promotes the adoption of practices and policies that enable the deployment of broadband network

...

The Commission promotes the adoption of practices and policies that enable the deployment of broadband networks at national level, especially within developing countries. It engages in advocacy activities aimed to demonstrate that broadband networks are basic infrastructures in modern societies and could accelerate the achievement of the sustainable development goals. The Commission publishes an annual State of the Broadband Report, providing an overview of broadband network access and affordability, with country-by-country data measuring broadband access. Other reports, open letters, and calls for actions issues by the Commission also underline the benefits of broadband as a critical infrastructure towards achieving growth and development.

(ISO)

More and more standards and guidelines developed by ISO cover issues related to data and information security,

...

More and more standards and guidelines developed by ISO cover issues related to data and information security, and cybersecurity. One example is the 27000 family of standards, which cover aspects related to information security management systems and are used by organisations to keep information assets (e.g. financial data, intellectual property, employees’ information) secure. Standards 27031 and 27035, for example, are specifically designed to help organisations to effectively respond, diffuse and recover from cyber-attacks. Cybersecurity is also tackled in the framework of standards on technologies such as the Internet of Things, smart community infrastructures, medical devices, localisation and tracking systems, and future networks.

(EBU)

In an environment increasingly characterised by digital convergence, the EBU is working on supporting its memb

...

In an environment increasingly characterised by digital convergence, the EBU is working on supporting its members in their digital transformation processes, in promoting and making use of digital channels, and in identifying viable investment solutions for over-the-top (OTT) services. The organisation has a Digital Media Steering Committee, focused on ‘defining the role of public service media in the digital era, with a special focus on how to interact with big digital companies’. It also develops a bi-annual roadmap for technology and innovation activities, as well as a Strategic Programme on Broadcaster Internet Services, and it has a dedicated Project Group on OTT services.

(ETSI)

ETSI develops standards related to various telecommunications infrastructures and technologies, including broa

...

ETSI develops standards related to various telecommunications infrastructures and technologies, including broadband cable access (such as integrated broadband cable and television networks), broadband wireless access (such as broadband radio access networks and white spaces technologies), grid and cloud computing networks, next generation networks (such as those dedicated to Internet of things technologies), digital mobile radio, and digital broadcasting networks. Specific technical committees focus on issues such as enabling broadband customers to achieve high connection speeds, facilitating the transition to Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), and ensuring energy efficiency in information and communication networks, among others.

(CTU)

The CTU dedicates efforts to facilitating the deployment and development of telecom infrastructures in the Car

...

The CTU dedicates efforts to facilitating the deployment and development of telecom infrastructures in the Caribbean region. The organisation coordinates the Caribbean Regional Communications Infrastructure Programme, aimed, among others, at identifying and bridging the gaps in physical ICT infrastructure at regional level, including submarine cables, government networks, and broadband infrastructures. In the area of spectrum management, the CTU runs the Caribbean Spectrum Planning and Management Project, designed to enhance the harmonisation of spectrum planning and management policies and practices across the region. The organisation also provides assistance to member states in developing policies and regulations covering issues related to telecom infrastructure and technologies.

GSMA
(GSMA)

ETH Zurich
(ETH)

RedCLARA
(RedCLARA)

Pew Research Center
(Pew Research)

Instruments

Conventions

International Telecommunication Regulations (WCIT-12) (2012)
International Telecommunication Regulations (WATTC-88) (1988)

Resolutions & Declarations

Wuzhen World Internet Conference Declaration (2015)
ITU Resolution 101: Internet Protocol-based networks (2014)

Standards

ETSI standards dealing with convergence issues (2016)
Recommendation ITU-T Y.3600 'Big data – cloud computing based requirements and capabilities' (2015)
Recommendation ITU-T Y.2001 - 'General overview of NGN' (2004)

Other Instruments

Tunis Agenda for the Information Society (WSIS) (2005)

Resources

Articles

Bridging the Digital Divide in the EU (2015)

Publications

Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)

Reports

Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions 2017 (2017)
Internet for All: A Framework for Accelerating Internet Access and Adoption (2016)
State of the Internet: Q4 2015 Report (2016)
A Pre-Feasibility Study on the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway in the ASEAN Sub-region: Conceptualization, International Traffic & Quality Analysis, Network Topology Design and Implementation Model (2016)
The Digital Economy & Society Index (DESI) 2016 (2016)
State of Connectivity 2015: A Report on Global Internet Access (2016)
A New Regulatory Framework for the Digital Ecosystem (2016)
Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2015–2020 (2016)
Connectivity: Broadband Market Developments in the EU (2016)
NI Trend Watch 2016 (2015)
Measuring the Information Society 2015 (2015)
Best Practice Forum on Internet Exchange Points (IXPs): Enabling Environments to Establish Successful IXPs (2015)
The 2015 BCG e-Intensity Index (2015)
The State of Broadband 2015 (2015)
OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2015 (2015)
Global Internet Report 2015 (2015)
The Global Information Technology Report 2015: ICTs for Inclusive Growth (2015)

GIP event reports

Community Connectivity – Empowering the Unconnected (2017)
Report for ITU CWG-Internet - 4th Physical Open Consultation Meeting (2017)

Processes

Sessions at WSIS Forum 2016

Sessions at IGF 2015

IGF 2016 Report

 

The need for further deployment of infrastructure in unconnected areas, as a step towards bringing the next billions of users online, was a recurrent topic at the IGF 2016 meeting (discussed, for example, in the IEEE Open Forum - OF15). Discussions focused on broadband and community networks (Dynamic Coalition on Community Connectivity); Internet Exchange Points - IXPs (Best Practice Forum on Internet Exchange Points) and Content Delivery Networks - CDNs (Content Delivery Alternatives: Intertwining of IXPs and CDNs - WS47); public WiFi networks and white space technologies (Public Wi-Fi/Open Access Models in Developing Countries - WS161). The need to speed up the deployment of IPv6 was also underlined.

Possible causes of Internet fragmentation were analysed in several sessions: breaches of the net neutrality principle; data localisation policies; commercial and governmental practices of blocking access to online content (Internet Fragmentation: Net Neutrality - WS173); various dimensions of the digital divide (Internet Fragmentation: Getting Next 4 Billion Online - WS37); and alternative roots and initiatives, such as the Digital Objects Architecture (Domain Name System fragmentation? Risk and reality - WS75).

WSIS Forum 2016 Report

 

While developing countries represent around 80% of the world’s population, the rate of Internet adoption in developing countries (39%) is significantly low. Various ways of increasing the adoption rate - including strengthening the infrastructure, enabling cross-industry cooperation, and creating new business models - were discussed.

Mobile infrastructure can play a major role in narrowing the digital divide. The global mobile revolution is a key success factor, one panellist explained in Action Line C2 (ICT Infrastructure) - Evolving Affordable Broadband Infrastructure for Bringing ICT to All (session 121). One suggestion was to provide ultra-efficient and solar-powered base stations suitable for rural towns, with local communities providing a secure space where to host the station and other equipment. Government subsidies could support the effort. At the same time, broadband connectivity is also important.

In Action Line C6 (Enabling Environment) - Affordable Access for Sustainable Development (session 119), the panelists described the concept of infrastructure sharing in their regions. For example, in West Africa, providers are required to share their infrastructure, including the grounds, the antennae, and even active components within their networks, therefore passing the reduced cost of setting up new infrastructure on to the end user. In the Maldives, infrastructure sharing is embraced by the main industry players. Healthy competition levels helped make the networks more efficient in terms of cost and distribution.

Enabling a Trusted Connected World (session 111) discussed the vision of a trusted information infrastructure which would ensure that information running on the infrastructure is safe. In addition, addressing the issues related to proper regulation and interoperability could contribute to a trusted, connected world. Infrastructure-related challenges were also discussed in other sessions related to development, access, the digital divide, and e-commerce.

IGF 2015 Report

 

In Spectrum Allocations: Challenges & Opportunities at the Edge (WS 188), panellists discussed how new technology - including geo-satellites, orbits, high-altitude platform services, drones, and ‘balloons’ - was putting pressure on the use of spectrum. There are various opportunities, including the development of software for spectrum management.But just as software was introduced into the management of taxis, resulting in huge efficiencies but at the same time many social and economic downsides, we can either wait for the ‘Uberisation’ of spectrum management to happen, or regulate and manage the process in order to maximise the benefits of software.

 

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