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Telecommunications infrastructure


7 Feb 2017

According to GSMA and Machina Research, Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) connections are set to exceed 2G, 3G, and 4G and become the leading technology for the Internet of Things (IoT), with 1.4 billion connections by 2022. As described by GSMA, ‘LPWA networks are an emerging, high-growth area of the IoT, designed to support machine-to-machine applications that have low data rates, require long battery lives, and operate unattended for long periods of time, often in remote locations. They will be used for a wide variety of applications such as industrial asset tracking, safety monitoring, water and gas metering, smart grids, city parking, vending machines and city lighting’.

13 Jan 2017

The Marshall Islands have faced the Internet blackout since December 28 when the undersea fibre cable malfunctioned. The reduction of bandwidth has decreased by 97 %. The National Telecommunications Authority limited the access to email and important services like airports, emergency etc. Individuals, businesses, and local authorities experience various difficulties with their systems and services, reports The Marshall Islands Journal. The Internet and phone communication was switched to the satellite link that provides 50 Mb/s only. The officials expect the cable should be repaired by January 18.  

9 Jan 2017

The Cuban telecommunications company ETECSA deployed the Internet connectivity into more than 2,000 households in the capital's district Old Havana, informed BBC in December 2016. The independent blog Havana Times reports on the new trial in detail. The Internet seems to be open for everybody from the area and not censored. The trial will run two months for free. 


The telecommunications infrastructure is a physical medium through which all Internet traffic flows. Therefore, there are number of related policy issues including reaching out to end user - especially in the rural and remote areas, liberalisation of the telecommunication and services market, investments in the development of further intercontinental fibre backbone links, and the establishment and harmonisation of the technical standards. Since the telecommunication infrastructure is predominantly privately owned, there is a strong interplay of corporate sector, governments and international organisations in global debates.

Internet data can travel over a diverse range of communication media: telephone wires, fibre-optic cables, satellites, microwaves, and mobile telecommunications technology. Even the standard electric grid can be used to relay Internet traffic utilising power line technology.

The way in which telecommunication is regulated impacts Internet governance directly. The telecommunications infrastructure is regulated at both national and international level by a variety of public and private organisations. The key international organisations involved in the regulation of telecommunications include the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which developed rules for coordination among national telecommunication systems, the allocation of the radio spectrum, and the management of satellite positioning; and the World Trade Organization (WTO), which played a key role in the liberalisation of telecommunication markets worldwide.

The roles of the ITU and the WTO are quite different. The ITU sets detailed voluntary technical standards and telecommunication-specific international regulations, and provides assistance to developing countries. The WTO provides a framework for general market rules.

Following liberalisation, the ITU’s near monopoly as the principal standards setting institution for telecommunications was eroded by other professional bodies and organisations. At the same time, large telecommunication companies – such as AT&T, Vodafone, Telefonica, Orange, Tata Communications, and Level 3 Communications – were given the opportunity to globally extend their market coverage. Since most Internet traffic is carried over the telecommunication infrastructures of such companies, they have an important influence on Internet developments.

Convergence of telecommunications infrastructure

The Internet can be structured into three basic layers. A technical infrastructure layer (physical), a transport layer (standards, protocols) and an application and content layer (www, apps). A good interaction of the first two layers is crucial from the perspective of telecommunications.

In order to use and further develop the telecommunications infrastructure efficiently, there was a need to bridge two worlds with different needs - telecommunications and computers. This issue was solved by a technical standard called Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). TCP/IP works over the infrastructure; all applications work over TCP/IP. Nowadays, the major part of telecommunication infrastructure is built to fit the needs of digital communication and the Internet.

Best effort vs Quality of Service

The telecommunications infrastructure has been growing rapidly over the last 60 years. The very first networks were built as end-to-end connections. This ensured the link between two end-points was stable, fully available (dedicated), and was able to offer ‘quality of service’. The need to connect as many end-points as possible and the increase in the volume of data flow required a change in this approach.

Today, the connectivity is provided to everyone, but some technical aspects (speed, stability, delay etc.) of the connection are not guaranteed. This principle is called ‘best effort’. The closer to the end-point, the higher probability the customer is served under the best effort approach. Given that bandwidth is shared, Fair Use Policies (FUPs) can be applied, certain types of data can be prioritised (even under the net neutrality provisions), and many more limits can be used.

The convergence of infrastructure and computer networks is possible thanks to the TCP/IP protocol which works on the best effort principle. This means that almost the whole Internet works on the best effort principle. The technical development in all three layers of the Internet seeks to emulate the Quality of Service as much as possible. While there can be a satisfactory level of quality of Internet connectivity, there are still cases where current technical solutions can be insufficient. For example remote surgeries, aviation, military use, etc.

The last mile

The telecommunications infrastructure faces a problem of how to reach the end user. The access networks to the Internet should be dense, designed and built systematically in order to lead to all customers (even hypothetical ones). They have to overcome obstacles of public spaces (roads, buildings, rural areas, and prices for deployment). This issue is called the ‘last mile’. The common solution how to bridge the last mile is to use an already built infrastructure like copper wires, cable TV or mobile networks. Such an infrastructure is often in the hands of a monopolistic operator. The governments and regulatory bodies usually solve this issue by ordering the operators to rent their loops (local loop unbundling).

Cable vs wireless

The technical advancements in the last decade empowered the idea that broadband access to the Internet would be possible through wireless connections. Accepting that there are obvious positive sides of such connectivity, there are also several aspects to be aware of. The air is a shared medium and therefore requires higher regulation of its electromagnetic spectrum part. A wireless connection is endangered by interference from various sources (weather conditions, outer space radiation, etc.) and is more likely to be vulnerable to external attacks (hacking, spying, sabotage etc.). In terms of quality and speed, at this moment any wireless connection is unable to compete with cable infrastructure.




International Telecommunication Regulations (WATTC-88) (1988)
International Telecommunication Regulations (WCIT-12) (2012)

Resolutions & Declarations

ITU Resolution 101: Internet Protocol-based networks (2014)
Wuzhen World Internet Conference Declaration (2015)


Recommendation ITU-T Y.2001 - 'General overview of NGN' (2004)
Recommendation ITU-T Y.3600 'Big data – cloud computing based requirements and capabilities' (2015)
ETSI standards dealing with convergence issues (2016)

Other Instruments

Tunis Agenda for the Information Society (WSIS) (2005)



Bridging the Digital Divide in the EU (2015)


Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)


Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions 2017 (2017)
Internet for All: A Framework for Accelerating Internet Access and Adoption (2016)
State of the Internet: Q4 2015 Report (2016)
A Pre-Feasibility Study on the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway in the ASEAN Sub-region: Conceptualization, International Traffic & Quality Analysis, Network Topology Design and Implementation Model (2016)
The Digital Economy & Society Index (DESI) 2016 (2016)
State of Connectivity 2015: A Report on Global Internet Access (2016)
A New Regulatory Framework for the Digital Ecosystem (2016)
Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2015–2020 (2016)
Connectivity: Broadband Market Developments in the EU (2016)
NI Trend Watch 2016 (2015)
Measuring the Information Society 2015 (2015)
Best Practice Forum on Internet Exchange Points (IXPs): Enabling Environments to Establish Successful IXPs (2015)
The 2015 BCG e-Intensity Index (2015)
The State of Broadband 2015 (2015)
OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2015 (2015)
Global Internet Report 2015 (2015)
The Global Information Technology Report 2015: ICTs for Inclusive Growth (2015)

GIP event reports

Report for ITU CWG-Internet - 4th Physical Open Consultation Meeting (2017)


Sessions at IGF 2016

Sessions at WSIS Forum 2016

Sessions at IGF 2015

IGF 2016 Report


The need for further deployment of infrastructure in unconnected areas, as a step towards bringing the next billions of users online, was a recurrent topic at the IGF 2016 meeting (discussed, for example, in the IEEE Open Forum - OF15). Discussions focused on broadband and community networks (Dynamic Coalition on Community Connectivity); Internet Exchange Points - IXPs (Best Practice Forum on Internet Exchange Points) and Content Delivery Networks - CDNs (Content Delivery Alternatives: Intertwining of IXPs and CDNs - WS47); public WiFi networks and white space technologies (Public Wi-Fi/Open Access Models in Developing Countries - WS161). The need to speed up the deployment of IPv6 was also underlined.

Possible causes of Internet fragmentation were analysed in several sessions: breaches of the net neutrality principle; data localisation policies; commercial and governmental practices of blocking access to online content (Internet Fragmentation: Net Neutrality - WS173); various dimensions of the digital divide (Internet Fragmentation: Getting Next 4 Billion Online - WS37); and alternative roots and initiatives, such as the Digital Objects Architecture (Domain Name System fragmentation? Risk and reality - WS75).

WSIS Forum 2016 Report


While developing countries represent around 80% of the world’s population, the rate of Internet adoption in developing countries (39%) is significantly low. Various ways of increasing the adoption rate - including strengthening the infrastructure, enabling cross-industry cooperation, and creating new business models - were discussed.

Mobile infrastructure can play a major role in narrowing the digital divide. The global mobile revolution is a key success factor, one panellist explained in Action Line C2 (ICT Infrastructure) - Evolving Affordable Broadband Infrastructure for Bringing ICT to All (session 121). One suggestion was to provide ultra-efficient and solar-powered base stations suitable for rural towns, with local communities providing a secure space where to host the station and other equipment. Government subsidies could support the effort. At the same time, broadband connectivity is also important.

In Action Line C6 (Enabling Environment) - Affordable Access for Sustainable Development (session 119), the panelists described the concept of infrastructure sharing in their regions. For example, in West Africa, providers are required to share their infrastructure, including the grounds, the antennae, and even active components within their networks, therefore passing the reduced cost of setting up new infrastructure on to the end user. In the Maldives, infrastructure sharing is embraced by the main industry players. Healthy competition levels helped make the networks more efficient in terms of cost and distribution.

Enabling a Trusted Connected World (session 111) discussed the vision of a trusted information infrastructure which would ensure that information running on the infrastructure is safe. In addition, addressing the issues related to proper regulation and interoperability could contribute to a trusted, connected world. Infrastructure-related challenges were also discussed in other sessions related to development, access, the digital divide, and e-commerce.

IGF 2015 Report


In Spectrum Allocations: Challenges & Opportunities at the Edge (WS 188), panellists discussed how new technology - including geo-satellites, orbits, high-altitude platform services, drones, and ‘balloons’ - was putting pressure on the use of spectrum. There are various opportunities, including the development of software for spectrum management.But just as software was introduced into the management of taxis, resulting in huge efficiencies but at the same time many social and economic downsides, we can either wait for the ‘Uberisation’ of spectrum management to happen, or regulate and manage the process in order to maximise the benefits of software.

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