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.

Australian telcos take on mobile number, identity fraud

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has hailed newly implemented measures to deal with mobile number fraud.

Flagging mobile number fraud as the gateway to identity theft the authority said the issue occurs when scammers steal personal details to gain control of a person’s phone number.

“Mobile number fraud can have devastating effects as scammers can gain access to bank accounts, email, social media and more,” said ACMA Authority Member Fiona Cameron. “Identity theft has long-term ramifications as victims struggle to regain control over personal and financial information often over years.”

In March this year the ACMA announced a Scam Technology Project to explore ways to disrupt scam activity on telco networks and commenced work with industry on preventing mobile number fraud. It said the first outcome of this work was the establishment by Communications Alliance of new measures for use when telcos are transferring mobile phone numbers.

“These measures include the use of two-factor authentication, which involves an additional ID check such as use of a code sent to a consumer that they then use to verify their identity,” the ACMA said, adding that the largest telco providers and most major resellers had voluntarily implemented the measures.

While Cameron hailed the development of the stricter security measures,she warned more was required. “We know that some telcos, mainly smaller resellers, are still not providing satisfactory protection to consumers,” she said. “We welcome the Minister’s direction to lift these obligations into an enforceable industry standard that will apply to all providers. This work will be a priority for the ACMA.”

“In the interim, consumers should ask their provider what measures they have in place to protect their phone number and personal identity,” added Cameron.

The ACMA will shortly release an action plan to limit telephone scams, with the Scam Technology Project due to hand down its findings to the Minister in late November.

The figures behind Telstra’s 2022 transformation

Telstra chairman John Mullen used this week’s AGM to play up the telco’s ‘T22’ turnaround strategy – unveiled in June 2018 – dubbing it ‘the most radical and ambitious [transformation] being undertaken by any communications company in the world today’.

The three year strategy included the establishment of a new wholesale infrastructure company, Telstra Infraco, simplified product offerings and business structure and a cost reduction program.

Mullen told the AGM that in the year since launching T22, the company has reduced more than 1,800 consumer and small business plans to just 20 in market plans and done away with lock in contracts on new consumer and small business mobile and fixed plans.

The number of calls coming into Telstra’s contact centres has dropped by more than 15 million a year, with the company planning to reduce them by another 16 million by 2022.

That’s no doubt helping drive cost reductions too, with Mullen noting $1.2 billion of annual cost reduction since FY16.

Also helping on the cost reduction front – but not something Mullen was keen to play up – is the 6,000 direct employee role reductions this year.

While Mullen dubbed the reduction ‘a great concern’ given that ‘every employee is a person with a family, hopes and aspirations’ he noted that one of the biggest drivers was the transfer of Telstra’s fixed line business back to government ownership.

“While we have lost some 6,000 employees, NBN now employs 6,400 and many thousands of contractors, so overall employment has risen in the industry.”

Mullen shot down criticism of chief executive Andy Penn’s $5 million pay packet, saying the board had spent a ‘huge amount of time’ consulting to find an appropriate compensation scheme after being given a ‘first strike’ last year when shareholders rejected the company’s remuneration report.

He said share prices can’t be the only metric on which management performance is rated, and cautioned that ‘first class leadership’ is critical in the current environment of transformation and retaining top management depends on a number of things, including remuneration.

“When I was younger almost every executive aspired to being the CEO of a big public company. Today there is a real risk that the media scrutiny, populist criticism and governance challenges are starting to lead talented executives to look for alternative career paths such as private equity where they can build their careers out of the spotlight.

“Transparency and accountability are of course good things, but we need to be very careful that the pendulum does not swing too far and we lose top talent, as this will ultimately only be to the detriment of shareholders.

The company reported a drop in profit this year with Mullen laying part of the blame – some $600 million in negative recurring EBITDA headwind – on the NBN but promising FY2020 will be ‘pivotal’ for Telstra, with expectations of up to $500 million in growth.

Mullen saved much of his chairman’s speech to slam the NBN, saying it is a ‘state-owned monopoly that is going to cost the country more than $50 billion’ – while also accepting that Telstra must bear part of the blame due to its recalcitrance in helping the government at the time.

He says all Australians would have had access to better high-speed broadband at ‘a fraction of the cost’ if the NBN had not happened.

“It is always easier to comment with the benefit of hindsight, but it is my view that over the last 10 years private sector competition between strong players such as Telstra, Optus, TPG and others was always going to build 100MB broadband access and speed to the majority of the population of Australia, in an ongoing competitive landscape and at no cost whatsoever to the taxpayer.”

Security will prove key differentiator for 5G: Palo Alto Networks

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By Sean Duca, VP and regional CIOr, Asia Pacific and Japan, Palo Alto Networks

Consumers and businesses are set to benefit enormously from the exponential network improvements promised by 5G.

More than just an incremental upgrade, 5G will create opportunities for the most exciting science fiction inventions to become science facts. It will lead to a level of connectedness and interconnectedness that hasn’t been seen before as data is shared between devices and applications at speeds even faster than the human brain.

However, consumers and businesses won’t be the only parties benefiting from these improvements. Cybercriminals will be able to take advantage of 5G to mount even more sophisticated attacks, gain better economies of scale, and target more attack vectors. Therefore, it’s essential for any person or business considering moving to 5G be aware of security upfront, according to Palo Alto Networks.

With 5G applications, a cyberattack can go beyond locking up data or compromising business operations. For example, cybercriminals could cause car accidents as autonomous vehicles become ubiquitous, or loss of life by hacking surgical robots or connected lifesaving devices; and these are just two of literally millions of examples of society’s potential reliance on 5G-enabled devices and applications.

Security will absolutely be the key differentiator for 5G; without security baked in as part of the fabric, 5G applications will be risky. It’s also imperative to take stock of where security is at today because threats aren’t waiting for 5G.

Palo Alto Networks recommends a three-pronged approach to improve security in preparation for 5G:

1. Government: address systemic issues present in today’s mobile networks

There are currently security issues in mobile networks that create risks for all users. Therefore, the government needs to step up to do more to regulate telecommunications providers to ensure they’re doing everything they can to keep the network secure.

If there are challenges that remain unaddressed in today’s networks, they are only going to get worse when 5G arrives. To successfully deliver on the promise of 5G, security is absolutely fundamental and must underpin everything. Government-mandated security can help.

2. Telecommunication providers: provide value-added security services to customers

Currently, telcos provide data and carriage with no responsibility for security. This means they’re missing an obvious opportunity to differentiate their offering with a value-added security service.

When passengers go to the airport, they know every single bag will be inspected before it gets on the plane. The same should be true of network traffic. Telcos should be inspecting all of the traffic that passes through their networks and blocking traffic where appropriate. This should be a point of differentiation for telcos moving to offer 5G services.

3. Customers: demand secure offerings to enable innovative applications

When businesses are looking to provide next-generation services like autonomous cars or robotic surgery, they need to demand that their telco provides a secure network for these applications. Customer demand is a powerful way to compel providers to improve security.

Telcos can dedicate a piece of their network to specific customers who demand it, such as those who want to provide a service like autonomous cars, and ensure strong security across that slice of the network. With the potential for innovation that 5G offers, now is the time for telcos to prove that they can play a key role in providing the essential underpinning security required for these applications to work.

Security will be a fundamental enabler for 5G, with 90 per cent of mobile service providers identifying security as a key differentiator according to an Ericsson survey. (1)

Therefore, before embracing 5G, organisations should look to service providers to provide a resilient network with robust security mechanisms in place. They should take a preventative approach, and establish application-layer visibility and consistent security across all 5G applications and devices.

On a macro level, it’s critical for government and industry to work together to identify ways to build security into 5G networks from the outset, and continue to identify and drive progress towards best practices.


(1) “Exploring IoT Strategies,” Ericsson, April 2018, https://www.ericsson.com/en/internet-of-things/trending/exploring-iot-strategies

Australian regulator to review affordability of basic NBN products

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is set to review whether Australians can access basic broadband plans at fair and affordable prices, as part of an inquiry into NBN wholesale charges.

The inquiry will examine wholesale prices paid by retail service providers using the national broadband network to provide residential-grade broadband services.

More specifically, the regulator said it will focus on prices for basic speed broadband products offering 12/1 Mbps, and will consider whether regulation is needed to ensure a smooth transition for consumers to the NBN from legacy services such as ADSL.

“We have concerns that NBN Co’s wholesale pricing has resulted in unfair outcomes for those consumers who have no need for, or do not want, higher speed plans,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said. “Most consumers have no choice but to migrate to the NBN if they want to keep their home service active, but are at risk of not being able to obtain a comparable NBN service at a similar price to their ADSL service.”

According to the ACCC, the inquiry will determine whether NBN Co’s most recent pricing offers (in particular, its recent changes to its Entry Level Bundle) will enable RSPs to offer attractive retail NBN options at ADSL-like prices.

The ACCC, which first raised these issues last April after NBN Co’s wholesale pricing changes in late 2018 led to the withdrawal of many basic speed retail plans, said it was also concerned about the national network builder’s continued use of discounts to tweak access prices.

“NBN Co can withdraw these discounts ahead of a notice period that it sets itself,” it said.” The ACCC is concerned that these arrangements may not be providing enough certainty for RSPs as they develop and promote their retail offers.”

“This lack of certainty creates unnecessary risks that may ultimately be passed on to consumers, who may face higher prices and reduced quality and product offerings as a result,” Sims added.

In addition, the inquiry will look at NBN Co’s service transfer and reversal charges, which are applied each time an existing service is transferred between access seekers.

“These charges can discourage the efficient use of service transfer processes, impeding competition and impacting consumers,” the regulator said.

“We want to hear from interested parties as part of this public and transparent inquiry process,” said Sims. “Right now, we are approaching a peak period for NBN service activations and mandatory migrations. The window for many consumers to migrate to the NBN without losing their existing fixed line service is closing.”

“We are interested in what changes can be made quickly to promote competition and the interests of consumers, while allowing NBN Co the opportunity to grow its revenues, invest in its business and earn an appropriate rate of return,” Mr Sims said.

The ACCC said the inquiry will allow it to make a final access determination (FAD), should one be needed, ahead of the expiry of the current wholesale broadband agreement at the end of November 2020. “Any FAD would provide access seekers with certainty about the terms and conditions of the access to the NBN that would apply should they be unable to reach a new commercial agreement with NBN Co at that time.”

The ACCC has released a discussion paper examining these issues and seeking views on those and other related issues.

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

SaaS renewals specialist Renewtrak readies for growth with launch of new Palo Alto HQ

Software-as-a-Service renewal firm Renewtrak has flagged the upcoming opening of its new global headquarters in Palo Alto, to underpin strong early demand for its offerings which are aimed squarely at the tech industry.

33654-RENEW-Nick McMenemyWe’re about to go on a recruitment drive to support the growth of the company, and are excited to start reaching out to top developer and commercial talent in Silicon Valley,” said company founder and CEO Nick McMenemy, during a media session on the sidelines of NetEvents’ Global IT Summit in San Jose. “Our HQ will also support our burgeoning US customer base.”

Founded in 2014, the firm’s proposition centres on unlocking the unexploited value in the renewal process. Put simply, Renewtrak is billed as a white label service provider offering a suite of intelligent customer management services designed to maximize revenues and margins from existing client customers.

“Our mission is to rewire a process that is traditionally manual, lacks scale and leaves money on the table,” McMenemy said.  “Using our pioneering technology and integrated performance-based commercial model, we’re certain we’ve hit the sweet spot. We take renewals data and let the software start to make predictions based on some of the behaviors and trends that emerge in the renewals process.”

McMenemy explained how Renewtrak’s automated service, while relying on machine learning, for now at least did not involve AI to any great extent. “We are taking the numbers and making predictions about if this data point acts in a certain way, then we predict this outcome. This process is automated; it is like being able to programme and make learnings about how a traffic light system might work, reacting to peaks in traffic, it is simply about the numbers. This to my mind is machine learning, not true AI.”

“Our service is able to do this at scale, no matter the value of the renewal,” said McMenemy. “However with Renewtrak we are also dealing with behaviours and the messiness of actual business. We are able to automate processes that really don’t need to be done by call centers.”

“Through data gathering and automation, the machine can start to learn,” he said. “Our service can easily spot when renewals are coming up. The machine sees no difference or creates no weight leaning towards the higher value renewals.”

According to Renewtrak, its service saves clients an annual revenue of 45.4% and can increase average client profit by 62.9%. The company currently has four offices around the globe, with its ISO 27001 certified service supporting 32 currencies and 24 languages.

McMenemy also noted some early customer wins, including signing Ingram Micro and said trials were underway with several other key Silicon Valley tech players which the firm will be announcing over the next 2-3 months. “We look forward to working with many more here in the US from our new global HQ,” he added. “We are growing fast and have a clear ambition to be the tech industry’s global go-to provider for renewals.”

Richard van der Draay was in San Jose as a guest of NetEvents