Tue, Apr 30, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Selling off the nation’s 4G future

By Hochen Tan 賀陳旦

It is widely accepted that the Internet played a large part in the rapid identification and tracking down of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers. The amassing of images, revealing where the suspects went and when they were there, as well as their identities, could all be achieved due to the rapid collation of huge amounts of data.

The unprecedented, almost superhuman manner in which the pieces of the puzzle were put together owes much to the ubiquity of mobile phones with built-in cameras in the hands of snap-happy members of the public on the day of the run. Pictures were quickly uploaded for online “detectives” to share and sift through.

If such an atrocity, heaven forbid, happened in Taiwan, would the nation be able to mobilize in the same way?

On March 29, the third call for public consultation was issued for fourth-generation (4G) spectrum licensing regulations as part of the rules governing the management of mobile broadband services, and on April 11, the National Communications Commission delivered a report to the legislature, stating that the new regulations are set to be announced next month or in June.

Furthermore, the winners of bids to operate 4G services are to be announced in November, with the deposits for the tendering process to be received before December.

This version of the regulations, then, would seem to be the final consultative version, the version that is to be ratified.

The problem with this is that this licensing process, which should offer so much hope, has become smothered in dollar signs.

Article 89 of the regulations outlines the nature of the tendering and bidding processes, and also details deregulation measures, such as the transfer of frequency user rights between operators.

Compared with previous frequency licensing events, this is a rare breakthrough indeed, one that is extremely generous to operators and, coming as it does from a regulatory body, a surprisingly selfless move.

Nevertheless, moving the industry goalposts in this way does not so much cater to the strengths of 4G technology, other than merely making it possible for operators to secure further deals after they have won the initial licensing bids, allowing them to generate more money from selling on frequency rights.

The suspicion is that this licensing method is not being implemented so much to benefit the industry, as it is to fill the government’s coffers.

Many other countries regard the emergence of 4G technology as a policymaking opportunity to address the urban/ rural divide, and implement the social benefits of universal broadband access.

By contrast, in Taiwan’s regulations there exists merely the symbolic requirement for a unified disaster-warning messaging grid, and for the installation of Cell Broadcast one-to-many geographically focused messaging systems, with absolutely no other obligations for the government.

The requirements made on 4G operators in the regulations are also pretty vague, only stating that within five years of implementation, 50 percent of the population is to have access to 4G services. This is essentially saying that as long as the Greater Taipei area is covered, nobody is going to make a fuss.

As for other regions, well, that would depend on whether the market can support it.

The most ridiculous part of the whole process is how accommodating the regulations are to potential bidders. All an operator needs to do to be eligible to apply for licensing certification is build 250 high-speed base stations.

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