CMMA17: What keeps Asia’s regulators up at night

HERE COMES A REGULATOR: Five of them, in fact (from left): Dr. Tran Tuan Anh, Director of Policy and Regulation Division, Vietnamese Telecommunication Authority (VNTA), Vietnam; Rajnish Kumar Misra, Vice Minister – Member (Services), Telecom Commission, Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications, India; Katherine Yi-ning Chen, Commissioner, National Communications Commission (NCC), Taiwan; Mohamad Ali Hanafiah, Chief Officer – Digital Ecosystem, Malaysian Communications And Multimedia Commission (MCMC), Malaysia; and Aileen Chia, Director General (Telecoms & Post), Assistant Chief Executive (Connectivity & Competition Development), Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), Singapore. Also, a moderator: Andy Haire, Founder and Chairman, AJH Communications

The plenary panel on Day 2 of the CommunicAsia2017 summit featured telecoms regulators from across the region sharing their most pressing concerns. At the top of the list: 5G, connecting the unconnected, spurring innovation and enabling disruptive business models.

Singapore: 5G and spectrum

Aileen Chia, Director General (Telecoms & Post), Assistant Chief Executive (Connectivity & Competition Development), Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA)

Singapore has just announced its 5G consultation, and spectrum is critical for larger infrastructure development. Currently 80% of Singapore households have FTTH. 60% have speeds of over 1 Gbps. Being an international hub Singapore, has 19 subsea cables and 500 Tbps of bandwidth to the rest of the world. It is with that kind of backdrop that Singapore is looking at its 5G plan and the need for spectrum.

When LTE planning started seven years ago, the regulator looked at refarming 900-MHz and reallocating 700-MHz from the broadcasting sector after switching from analog to digital TV. With the 2G switch off last year, the reclaimed spectrum has created many opportunities. Refarming spectrum in an agile way is critical to complement the fast-moving technological advances in this sector. Providing regulatory certainty and a stable framework going forward is critical.

Singapore has launched a regulator sandbox for 5G. Anyone can now do research and development on 5G with very light-touch regulation.

Malaysia: enabling disruptive business models

Mohamad Ali Hanafiah, Chief Officer – Digital Ecosystem, Malaysian Communications And Multimedia Commission (MCMC)

Regulators are facing a challenge with OTT players with disruptive business models. If we regulate too early, we risk stifling innovation. If we regulate too late, we risk not being able to regulate.

Fair regulation is essential to protect the public and the fair market. Going forward, more collaborative regulation is expected. Perhaps regulators need to create forums where regulators from different industries work more closely together in converged matters. Obsolete regulations need to be constantly reviewed to keep abreast of disruptive technologies. Uber and AirBnB are good examples.

Going forward, the focus will shift to more participative government and engaging with partners. Bureaucratic processes that hamper the innovative process will be simplified and accountability will be increased. Government will shift away from agency delivery of services to a whole government approach based on services and information.

Taiwan: connecting rural areas in rugged, mountainous terrain

Katherine Yi-ning Chen, Commissioner of National Communications Commission (NCC)

Taiwan has a universal service obligation for broadband services in a country faced with severe geographical challenges. The country has five rugged mountain ranges, 100 mountains higher than 3km (the highest of which is over 4km) plus a number of small outlying islands, all of which need to need to be connected with mobile and Wi-Fi.

Then there are yearly natural disasters in the form of typhoons and mudslides and the need to ensure that networks can be rebuilt and redeployed quickly.

Because of the terrain, much of the connectivity needs to be provided via wireless meshes which brings with it challenges on quality of service and maintenance.

Tourism to rural areas is one of the fastest growing economic sectors. Five years ago, the government set out to increase the broadband speed in these rural areas from 2 Mbps to 12 Mbps, with 100 Mbps in villages and 1000 Mbps in townships.

Later this year, Taiwan will release its third tranche of 4G spectrum on 1800-MHz and 2100-MHz. The terms and conditions of the auction specify that the telcos will need to put forward plans on connecting rural areas. The obligations come with incentives, and telcos can expect discounts on their licenses between 5% to 15% based on how they cover rural areas.

Another change is government funding of USO projects. A new telecommunication law in the pipeline will allow more allocation of funds from administration and spectrum auction fees for USO, though that law is still awaiting cabinet approval.

India: connecting the unconnected

Rajnish Kumar Misra, Vice Minister – Member (Services), Telecom Commission, Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications

Of 597,000 villages in India, 52% are still unconnected in rural areas. In 2001 only 18% of rural villages were connected. By 2016, this number has grown to 42%.

This year, the government has announced a $1 billion budget to connect 8,000 villages with a further $7 billion to follow. This program means that 600,000 km of fiber optic cable will need to be laid. Government will provide cyber cafe centers in every village. In addition, 150,000 rural post offices will be connected with fiber to provide access.

Another area of concern for people is radiation from wireless devices. Here the government is providing information and services for people to go out and measure EMF radiation to show people it is safe, and that India’s EMF standards are 10 times stricter than European standards.

Vietnam: regulation must support innovation

Dr Tran Tuan Anh, Director of Policy and Regulation Division, Vietnamese Telecommunication Authority (VNTA)

Vietnam’s regulatory framework has been very important in influencing innovation. We have to build out the ecosystem with economic and social regulation. The challenge is how we can sprout innovation and how to prevent regulation from being harmful to new innovation.

For two years now, we have been talking about OTT companies that provide services like that of a telecoms operator – OTT voice and text messaging – but without any regulation at all. How can we have a system where some have no regulation and others have regulation on quality of service and price? But OTT regulation is not something just one country can do. We have to think about it. It does not mean regulation will stop new innovation. It is a tight thing. It is not easy for everyone.

When you talk about Singapore you see the regulator here talking about ‘smart nation’. But we are a developing nation, a startup nation. Everything is new; everything is a startup. We have no traditional [legacy] SMS, no traditional broadband. Vietnam is a startup nation.

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