Broadband speed gaining ground in SE Asia, but roll-out remains slow: report

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A new report published by The Economist Intelligence Unit has found that progress in providing faster broadband access varies significantly across South East Asia, despite the economic opportunities being well acknowledged.

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There are great differences in the level of broadband planning and implementation, where even leaders such as Singapore and Malaysia, face challenges in achieving greater coverage and uptake, the report indicated.

“In Singapore, 95 percent of households have access to fiber to the home (FTTH) network speed and 46 percent of them have subscribed to it. In Myanmar, by contrast, there is not even a national broadband plan. Among those with a plan for development, implementation is uneven,” it said.

The report, titled ?The future of broadband in South-East Asia,? was commissioned by Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei.

Although the Asean?s ICT Masterplan 2015 maps out a strategy to achieve greater integration across six areas, including infrastructure development and bridging the digital divide, implementation remains a domestic issue, the report added.

“In Malaysia, for instance, broadband targets are based on speeds of 256Kbps with the aim to provide 10Mbps or greater to high economic impact areas. The government has set a target to increase the broadband penetration rate to 75 percent of households by 2015,” it said.

For the Philippines, the report took note of the government?s Digital Strategy 2011?16, which aims to lower average prices for broadband access by 5 percent a year and to provide services of at least 20Mbps to all central business districts by 2016 while providing at least 2Mbps service to 80 percent of households by 2016 and 100 percent of villages by 2020.

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“Mobile broadband has been touted as a quick way to provide broader access, but experts are now concluding that it is not a silver bullet. Conversion of spectrum allocation, the necessary technical development to provide faster mobile speeds, has been slow across much of the region,” the study said.

Even where successful policies are in place, such as in Singapore, limited bandwidth for data poses an emerging challenge, it said. “This highlights the continued importance of fixed broadband networks to supplement increasingly crowded mobile networks,” it added.

The report also found that, in order not to fall behind, regulators are now taking a more holistic perspective and working with industry to resolve such issues and promote strong infrastructure environments.

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?As the information society grows in importance, digital inclusiveness becomes more urgent. Yet reaching rural and vulnerable populations remains difficult even for leading countries such as Singapore and Malaysia. Cyber security has also emerged as an issue which can affect uptake,? the report said.

Despite the financial and practical challenges of broadband implementation, the report said it remains the easier part of the supply and demand equation.

?More difficult are the challenges of improving affordability and raising awareness of the benefits of broadband adoption. Countries are only now beginning to tackle these issues.?

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