The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development releases the 2017 State of Broadband report today, ahead of the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York.
The annual report gives a global snapshot of where the telecommunications / ICT industry stands with regard to broadband deployment, affordability and reach. The 21st century has seen the steady spread and development of broadband internet access. Since 2000, the percentage of the global population with access to the internet has grown from 6.5% to 48%.[i] However, substantial progress remains to be made. More than half of the world’s population is still unable to get online regularly. The problem is particularly acute in the United Nations-designated Least Developed Countries (LDCs), many of which have characteristics such as challenging geography and sparse population densities that make them difficult to serve with terrestrial wired and wireless broadband systems.
A time of technological revolution
Fortunately, the report of the Broadband Commission Working Group on Technologies in Space and the Upper Atmosphere, released yesterday, demonstrates the extraordinary technological revolution underway in space communications and the key role these technologies will play in closing the connectivity gap. As the Working Group, which I was honoured to chair, explains in its report, new technologies such as high-throughput satellites (HTS), massive non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) constellations and high altitude platform stations are starting to offer broadband capacity across the globe, bringing pervasive, reliable, affordable connectivity to the hardest-to-reach regions.
Satellite systems, in particular, offer unparalleled coverage, reliability, mobility, and flexibility, which makes them ideal solutions not just for expanding the reach of the global internet into rural and remote areas, including the seas and the skies, but also for enabling new applications in urban and suburban areas by complementing terrestrial systems. Indeed, these next generation satellite systems will be a crucial component of future 5G networks to support the emerging digital society, which will demand an ecosystem of several different complementary technologies to deliver on end user expectations. In this regard, satellite connectivity will close gaps in terrestrial network coverage, enhance reliability, resiiency and security, and efficiently route certain types of traffic to the end user, such as bandwidth-intensive video streaming or over-the-air updates to distributed smart sensors and other devices, in sectors including connected car, logistics and agri-tech.
Improvements in hardware performance and efficiency, increased network capacity and capabilities, expanded reach, and greater multi-platform interoperability in space and upper atmosphere technologies are combining to drive the solutions that will be essential in meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Investment in these services can have a profound effect across various aspects of society, ranging from industry, health, and education to sustainability, agriculture and fisheries, e-government and facilitating the development of smart cities and smart societies. The global reach of satellite and upper atmosphere technologies can not only support local development, growth and innovation through reliable broadband connectivity, but can also support the rapid globalisation of local innovation across the same satellite and upper atmosphere networks.
The Working Group on Technologies in Space and the Upper Atmosphere report calls on governments and other stakeholders to support policies that promote the further development and adoption of these technologies. It concludes that policy makers should ensure sufficient protected spectrum is available to support technology growth and adoption. The Working Group also stresses the importance of promoting innovation.
Through this report, I hope that countries will realise the profound ways technologies such as satellite communications can provide high quality and reliable connectivity to all their citizens. This connectivity will enable countries to deploy the educational, health, and economic platforms necessary for the creation of digital natives who can, in turn, use that connectivity for creativity and value-added commerce, accessing all the benefits of being part of a global digital society.
[i] ITU, “ICT Facts and Figures” ITU Data and Statistics Bureau (2015).
About the author
Rupert Pearce joined Inmarsat in January 2005 as Group General Counsel and, from January 2009, additionally held the position of Senior Vice President, Inmarsat Enterprises. He became Chief Executive Officer in January 2012. Previously, Rupert worked for Atlas Venture, where he was a partner working with the firm’s European and US investment teams. He was previously also a partner at the international law firm Linklaters, where he spent 13 years specialising in corporate finance, M&A and private equity transactions. Rupert received an MA (First Class) in Modern History from Oxford University and won the 1995 Fullbright Fellowship in US securities law, studying at the Georgetown Law Center. He has been a visiting fellow of the Imperial College Business School, London, lecturing on the school’s Entrepreneurship programme, and is the co-author of Raising Venture Capital (Wiley).