Are we risking a mobile connectivity crisis?

People waiting at a train station

Are we risking a mobile connectivity crisis?

Japan and China have more than 3x as many cell sites per head than countries in the Americas. In Singapore, building owners are obligated to provide space for mobile infrastructure. How do we keep up? Europe and the Americas need to take both governmental and regulatory action to provide wider access to sites, better backhaul and support for shared deployment models, according to my new Webb Search report.

Urban areas will struggle to keep up

There's a danger that mobile coverage in most urban areas in the Americas and Europe could deteriorate in the next few years. The fast-rising demand for mobile connectivity together with a degradation in handset performance, as devices support ever-more frequency bands, could lead to so-called "not-spots" and capacity shortages.

So how are other countries coping? Developed Asia is out in front because the fiber networks required to serve cell sites have been integrated into large new urban developments. New cities also have more uniform and readily-accessed street furniture, such as lampposts, and there are fewer planning restrictions relating to historic buildings.

chart_cell sites

Cell sites per 10,000 people in selected counties. Sources: Deloitte, Ericsson

What we can do to move forward

Regulation is a huge factor, and we must make it financially worthwhile for operators to be able to invest in network in a fiercely competitive environment.

In many countries across the Americas and Europe, there are issues when it comes to finding new sites, slow site approval processes, site rental expenses, and of course the costs of provisioning backhaul and power. We should look to the U.S. and their specific regulation to reduce rental costs and speed up permit approvals.
Site sharing is a great way for us to improve mobile connectivity, but even this would require the removal of regulatory barriers, such as restrictions on sharing sites, electronics and spectrum, together with the consolidation of spectrum holdings to enable shared antennas and rules permitting taller masts and higher transmit powers.

As we move towards increasingly population dense cities, we need to keep up with demand. This means introducing standardized fees for access to public facilities, one-stop shop provision of all necessary regulatory processes and maximum time limits for permits to be granted, and much more. To keep a foot in the global market, we need to rethink how we approach network and spectrum.

You can read my full report, complete with recommendations, here with a global view and here for Latin America (Portugese & Spanish versions).

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