UN broadband commision calls for urgent action to boost global connectivity

A UN-backed report on global broadband access has uncovered an urgent need to improve global connectivity, with traditional strategies failing to enable the remaining half of the global population to get online.

According to the State of Broadband 2019: Broadband as Foundation for Sustainable Development report – which was issued by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development – global growth in the percentage of households connected to the internet is slowing, rising only slightly to 54.8% from 53.1% last year.

In addition, it found that in low-income countries, household internet adoption had improved by a mere 0.8% on average.

Data on individuals using the internet also indicated slowing global growth in 2018, as well as a slowing growth in developing countries, which are home to the vast majority of the estimated 3.7 billion still unconnected.

The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development was established in 2010 by ITU and UNESCO with the aim of boosting the importance of broadband on the international policy agenda, and expanding broadband access in every country as key to accelerating progress towards national and international development targets.

Led by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim Helù of Mexico, it is co-chaired by ITU’s Secretary-General Houlin Zhao and UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. 

“Today, the main factor preventing people in developing countries from using mobile internet is not affordability but poor literacy and digital skills,” said Azoulay [pictured]. “Gender inequality in digital technology is even more alarming. Women are less likely to have internet access than men, and this gap is widening. The 2019 UNESCO publication ‘I’d Blush If I Could’, produced under the auspices of the EQUALS Global Partnership, illustrated that women are now four times less likely than men to be digitally literate, and represent just 6% of software developers.”

The report authors called for a new set of collaborative strategies to drive the concept of ‘meaningful universal connectivity’ through greater emphasis on resource sharing and a more holistic approach that treats broadband as a basic public utility and vital enabler of global development.

They argued that the notion of ‘meaningful universal connectivity’ also includes broadband that is available, accessible, relevant and affordable, as well as safe, trusted, user-empowering and leading to positive impact.

In addition, the report authors urged policymakers to ensure the concept to underpin their new digital strategies, as governments seek to find new ways to finance network rollouts, aimed at reaching unconnected populations.

Mobile broadband continues to dominate

The State of Broadband 2019 reports that while almost one billion new mobile subscribers have been added in the five years since 2013 (4.2% average annual growth), the speed of growth in mobile connections is also slowing, particularly at the bottom of the pyramid. Mobile network coverage improved much more slowly in low-income countries, with a mere 22% improvement in 4G coverage in the past five years, compared with a 66% increase in lower-middle-income countries.

In 2018, 4G overtook 2G to become the leading mobile technology across the world, with 3.4 billion connections, accounting for 44% of the total. 4G will soon become the dominant mobile technology, surpassing half of all global mobile connections in 2019, and expected to peak at 62% of all mobile connections by 2023.

Data show that of the 730 million people expected to subscribe to mobile services for the first time over the next seven years, half will come from Asia Pacific, and just under a quarter from Sub-Saharan Africa.

New strategies to connect the unconnected

The State of Broadband 2019 takes a nuanced look at the nature of broadband connections globally, observing that a false dichotomy between ‘connected’ vs. ‘unconnected’ can hide grave disparities in access and present an inaccurate picture of the realities on the ground in many countries.

It notes, that while a connection speed of 256kbps is counted as ‘broadband’ for statistical purposes, users connecting at such speeds cannot enjoy a full online experience comparable to that of users accessing the net over the 100Mbps-or-better connections now considered ‘standard’ in the world’s wealthier nations.

The report notes that individuals who are online may not fit into neat binary statistical categories (‘users’ vs. ‘non-users’). Instead, people are adopting a wide range of ways interacting with, and benefiting from, the internet.

There is also growing recognition of the potential downsides and risks of technology adoption, particularly for more vulnerable populations including women and children, who may become victims of cyberstalking, online aggression and hate speech, or internet-enabled child abuse, exploitation, or bullying.

 

Richard van der Draay is in Amsterdam as a guest of Informa Tech.

Equinix boosts Oracle play with multi-region cloud connectivity expansion

Equinix has ramped up its collaboration with Oracle, expanding its private and secure connectivity to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure in dozens of metropolitan areas around the world, including Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Hong Kong.

According to the interconnection and data centre provider, its recent expansions in Sydney, São Paulo, Tokyo, Toronto and Zurich now offer customers in those regions private connectivity to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure FastConnect via Equinix Cloud Exchange (ECX) Fabric.

An on-demand, software defined network (SDN)-enabled interconnection service, ECX Fabric is designed to help customers connect to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure FastConnect, and other clouds and network providers located around the world.

“Our expansion in Sydney demonstrates our commitment to helping businesses in Australia further their digital transformation journeys and we are thrilled to offer our customers with a presence in our local facilities access to the Oracle Cloud via our ECX Fabric,” said Glenn Uidam, senior director of operations at Equinix Australia.

Equinix claims that the recent expansions now sees it offer more private connections to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure FastConnect than any other data centre player in the market, with connectivity via ECX Fabric available in 34 metro areas globally.

These include seven metro areas in the Asia Pacific region, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Hong Kong, Osaka, Singapore and Tokyo; 14 areas in North America; and 13 across Europe.

For Robert Blackburn, global managing director, Oracle strategic alliance, Equinix, this expansion of the long-running partnership between Oracle and Equinix meets a growing need in the market.

“As companies around the world are prioritising digital transformation as a way to gain a competitive advantage, we’re seeing increased customer demand to migrate Oracle workloads to Oracle Cloud,” Blackburn said. “The reality is that companies that are adopting digital transformation are thriving, and those that are not are being left behind.

“With this direct access, our mutual customers can create a high-speed, low-latency connection that allows them to fully realise the benefits of their Oracle deployment. We are excited to deepen our collaboration with Oracle and offer this service in these new metros across the globe,” he said.

Inabox buy hits MNF Group financials

Telecommunications software and services provider MNF Group (ASX:MNF) has flagged declines in revenue and profit for the year ending June, citing negative impacts stemming from its acquisition of Inabox Group’s (ASX:IAB) wholesale business, among other factors.

MNF Group’s after-tax net profit fell by roughly 3.9 percent, compared to the year prior, to $11.4 million, the company told shareholders in its annual financial results, released on 27 August. At the same time, revenue declined by about 2.4 percent, to nearly $215.6 million.

The company said its 2019 net profit after tax (NPAT) was negatively impacted by $1.2 million of acquisition costs, associated with the Inabox purchase, incurred during the year. It also flagged amortisation costs of $1.4 million during the year. 

MNF Group struck a deal to acquire the wholesale and enablement business of Inabox Group late last year, in a deal worth between $30.5 million-$35.5 million, ultimately fending off a rival offer for the business by SB&G Telecoms in December. 

The company has touted its successful acquisition as being highly complementary and synergistic with the wholesale business of its Symbio brand. 

“IAB performs a leading role in the Australian wholesale telecommunications market and brings considerable volume and scale to the MNF business. The company is also recognised as the leading provider of SaaS enablement services to the industry – strongly complementing the MNF business,” MNF Group CEO Rene Sugo said when the acquisition plans were announced.

In its latest financials, MNF Group told shareholders that the integration of the business is well underway, with most of the operational teams set to complete integration over the next few months and network integration expected to be finalised by the end of 2020. 

The company also indicated that, although full year revenue had declined, in part due to a decrease in lower margin transactional revenue, its gross profit margin had increased from $69 million in FY18 to $82.5 million this year. 

While MNF Group’s revenue and NPAT figures were slightly down, the company’s underlying NPAT – not including acquisition and amortisation expenses – in 2019 was up by 13 percent, year-on-year, to $15.9 million.

In the same period, the company’s earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) grew by 11 percent, to $27.2 million, with FY20 guidance remaining unchanged at $33 million-$36 million. 

UNIVERSITY OF QLD’s NEW 100GBPS AARNET DATA SUPERHIGHWAY GOES LIVE

The University of Queensland (UQ) is the first university in Australia to go live with a 100 gigabit per second (Gbps) connection to AARNet, Australia’s national not-for-profit high-speed network for research and education. This is a tenfold increase in data transfer capacity and speed for UQ and is set to revolutionise how researchers use big data in their quest to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges.

AARNet CEO Chis Hancock says UQ is the first in a wave of Australia’s top universities and research institutions upgrading to AARNet’s new high performing 100Gbps production service.

“The uptake of the new service by UQ and across the sector is being driven by the demand from researchers for moving increasingly bigger datasets in order to achieve faster research outcomes. Big data needs a big network and 100Gpbs will now give Australian researchers the bandwidth they need to collaborate with each other and with the world’s premier research institutes at scale,” says Hancock.

Rob Moffatt, UQ’s CIO says the new 100Gbps connection to AARNet will improve the University’s ability to conduct collaborative global research.

“UQ is a research institution with a global reputation and this means that many research teams collaborate on a global basis.  A lot of data is shifted between parties through the data collection and analysis life cycle and the ability to do that in a swift and reliable manner is the principal outcome of the upgrade for us,” said Moffatt.

Areas of data-intensive research at UQ set to benefit from the University’s new 100Gbps connection include genomics, imaging, modelling, microscopy and computing. For instance, faster data transfer will enhance the Queensland Brain Institute’s groundbreaking research into Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia; the Global Change Institute’s work to address the impacts of climate change and population growth; and a myriad of other research projects focusing on health, energy, sustainability, water and food security.

“UQ is extremely pleased to be the first university in Australia to migrate to AARNet’s 100Gbps service. Petabytes of data are being generated by research activities at UQ, and many of these activities are multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional, so reducing our transmission times for moving data between our national and global research partners is of significant benefit,” said Moffatt.

“Our mission is to continuously develop the AARNet network and services to remove barriers to discovery and innovation for Australian researchers and providing AARNet-connected universities and research institutes with 100Gbps connectivity now is a great example of that,” said Hancock.

KACIFIC SET FOR RAPID GROWTH AS FIRST MOVER ADVANTAGE KICKS IN

Singapore-based satellite operator Kacific is readying for a major expansion drive, with plans to significantly boost headcount at its Sydney and Singapore offices on the back of solid revenue gains from supplying a Ka-band broadband service to hitherto neglected markets in the Asia-Pacific region.

Kacific Founder and CEO Christian Patouraux

“We need to make sure that we have people on the ground – boots on the ground – to hold the hands of our customers,” Kacific founder and CEO Christian Patouraux told Telecom Times, adding that the firm expects to have increased its headcount to 40 or 45 from the current 20 staff.

We won’t have installers ourselves because we don’t do that,” Patouraux added. “We sell capacity and megabytes to our customers. We own our teleports but our customers have to install the terminal and install the service. But we will have people in those countries also to help customers address issue.”

Patouraux emphasised the enormous demand for broadband services in some of the firm’s target markets, saying that according to Kacific’s own independent advisers as well as a recent government report, in Indonesia by next year there will be demand equalling 1 terabyte per second. “In 2025, that demand will grow up to 5 terabyte per second. Now, today in Indonesia, there’s only 50 gigabyte per second of satellite,” he added. 

Founded in 2013, Kacific’s proposition centers on using Ka-band satellite capabilities to provide broadband connectivity to under-served regions, having initially focused on community amenities and government services such as schools and hospitals around the Pacific.

The idea was to first select places worldwide where Kacific would have a clear edge on potential rivals which might come up with a terrestrial connectivity offering, as compared to locations around the globe in the developed world where satellite can fill gaps, but where – by the same token – terrestrial connectivity can easily move in as well.

“The satellite industry tends to go after certain segments, and then other segments are more like an after-thought,” Patouraux said.“I saw actually there were still a lot of things to do in rural areas [and even] in suburban areas in developed countries, but in developing countries as well.”

In addition, Patouraux felt the Ka-band wasn’t being sufficiently exploited. “I think there was a lot of money that had been put into the Ka-band business and technologies, to try to arrive at the kind of satellite offering that we have today.”

However, Patouraux also noted at that time a massive supply gap on the demand side, while on the supply side, “nobody was really using that supply, the type of technology to address that shortcoming.”

As Kacific’s order book reached sufficient critical mass to merit the payload, Patouraux believed his venture should not include getting its own satellite. “We’re a new company; let’s look for a partner, let’s try to find someone who owns a slot and is willing to put our payload on board their satellite,” he explained.

“I wanted really our offering to prevail [by starting] from a location that would be almost impossible to connect via terrestrial means,” he said. “When we looked at the Pacific it was an obvious case. When I went into some places like Vanuatu or Tuvalu, people were telling me, ‘You’re the first one to come. Nobody comes here’.”

The firm has since shifted its focus to also include Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and The Philippines as its main target markets – along with Bangladesh, Nepal and New Zealand.

However, Patouraux billed New Zealand for instance as somewhat of an afterthought. “It’s a different market than all of the other ones we’re covering,” he said. “But then we realised there is a demand in New Zealand, there is no national satellite really there. [However], it’s a developed country that’s quite isolated, so it doesn’t benefit from other satellite programs. So then we thought, ‘Okay, let’s try to be the equivalent of the NBN satellite for New Zealand’.”

Patouraux said so far Kacific has been the only satellite operator which has really looked at New Zealand from a pure Ka broadband perspective. “New Zealand is a great market actually, still today, despite all their push for fibre to the home. We still have some residential users who are not connected, but we also have a lot of enterprise users needing satellite as a backup.”

“It’s a very active seismic location so if fibre gets cut there could be issues if the Big One comes,” Patouraux said.

Earlier this week, Kacific was in a position to step in when an outage in the submarine cable network that connects Tonga to the outside world, plunging the island nation into digital oblivion. The only international service available – providing crucial connectivity while Tonga Cable carried out repair work – was supplied by Kacific Broadband Satellite, and delivered in-country by ISP, EziNET.

SES satellites deliver added connectivity for PNG APEC

SES Networks’ satellites are being used to provide additional connectivity to Papua New Guinea for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, now underway in Port Moresby.

The additional connectivity has been provided with the assistance of the Australian Government, working with the Papua New Guinea Government’s implementing agency, DataCo, and will deliver 6Gbps of high-bandwidth, low latency connectivity.

The service, which will supplement existing capacity into PNG and ensure venues and delegates have access to high-speed internet access throughout the conference, will utilise capacity from SES’ O3b Medium Earth Orbit satellite fleet.

The system will use existing DataCo infrastructure. SES Networks has also created a new core network for DataCo with ‘state-of-the-art’ security to ensure network intrusion detection and prevention.

The core network connects Port Moresby to Sydney and Perth and includes caching to ensure ‘near instant’ access to important content, such as news media and APEC-managed sites.

Two high-capacity connections using diverse O3b ground stations have been added in two Port Moresby suburbs and will be backhauled to gateways in Australia to provide additional connectivity reliability.

Luxemborg-based SES has more than 70 satellites across geostationary orbit and medium earth orbit, including the O3b satellite constellation, providing primarily voice and data comms. O3b stands for ‘other three billion’ in reference to the three billion people for whom broadband internet isn’t available.

DataCo says the O3b satellite high capacity network is the highest satellite service capacity in the country.

The O3b satellite tower and refurbishment of the earth station at Gerehu reportedly cost US$10 million and is being funded by Australia. https://www.thenational.com.pg/cheaper-faster-internet-promised/

Australian minister for foreign affairs, Marise Payne, says the investment is an important part of Australia’s broader internet connectivity support to PNG.

The Coral Sea Cable System, a fibre optic cable connecting Port Moresby and Sydney, is due for completion in late 2019.

Paul Komboi, DataCo managing director, says he hopes to continue the partnership with SES Networks after APEC, to improve internet services across the archipelago and ‘bring PNG closer to the world’.

Last month, when announcing the SES S.A’s latest financials – which saw double digit growth for the SES Networks business – company president and CEO Steve Collar noted the delivery of a major turn-key project to PNG in record time, reinforcing the positive contribution to fixed data.

In announcing the APEC agreement, SES Networks Asia Pacific vice president of fixed data sales, Imran Malik Khan, said it was a ‘tremendous vote of confidence’ in SES by regional governments.

Sky the limit for ANZ space industry as NZ launches rocket while Australia ups satellite push

Sunday’s successful rocket launch by Kiwi company Rocket Lab heralded not only the first commercial launch for the company, but also the launch of the first CubeSats from an Australian firm.

Adelaide-based IoT startup Fleet Space Technologies, used Rocket Lab’s ‘It’s Business Time’ mission to launch two 1.5U satellites which will be the foundation of a global IoT communications constellation.

Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle lifted off from the Mahia Peninsula on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand at 16.50 on Sunday, deploying six satellites into low earth orbit. Around an hour later the Curie module, which successfully separated from Electron on orbit, also deployed a drag sail technology demonstrator, designed and built by High Performance Space Structure Systems, to passively de-orbit inactive small satellites and reduce space junk.

The two Fleet Promixa satellites are the first of a fleet of more than 100 small, low cost nanosatellites, weighing less than 10kg and about the size of a shoebox, that will provide internet connectivity for millions of sensor devices in remote locations around the world.

The Fleet satellites are the first commercial tests of Fleet’s software-defined radios which will be used to transmit data across S-band and L-band frequencies in space.

Also on the manifest were two Spire Global Lemur-2 satellites, an Irvine CubeSat STEM program educational CubeSat, and a Tyvak Nano-Satellite System-built GeoOptics satellite.

Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and chief executive, says the mission marks a new era in access to space.

“The world is waking up to the new normal. With the Electron launch vehicle, rapid and reliable access to space is now a reality for small satellites,” Beck says.

Rocket Lab, which says its mission is ‘to open access to space to improve life on earth’ was founded by Beck. Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla later invested in the company which opened a corporate headquarters in the United States. The company has successfully deployed 11 satellites.

The successful mission will be followed in a matter of weeks by another, this time for NASA. The NASA mission will see the deployment of ELaNa (Educational Launch of Nanosatellites) CubeSats which will conduct a range of new, on-orbit science and technology demonstrations and research, including measuring radiation in the Van Allen belts to understand their impact on spacecraft and demonstrating new technology such as a solar sail blade.

The December mission will be the first launch for NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services, constituting the smallest class of dedicated launch services used by the agency.

Rocket Lab is using a rapid manifest process taking just weeks, which it says will enable it to provide ‘flexible and frequent launch opportunities’.

“This approach supports commercial companies and governments alike to rapidly deploy space-based assets and get them operational faster,” says Beck.