Vitor Pereira is a Portuguese-based journalist and blogger with a focus on smart cities.

Vitor Pereira, a journalist and blogger, takes a look at how mobile broadband is helping solve traditional connectivity problems in rural Portugal. 

For decades, the remote and less populated regions of the most varied parts of the world have tried to keep pace with the spread of Broadband and high speed Internet. These naturally, first arrived in the big cities and most populated regions for several reasons. Firstly, and essentially, due to the business models of major telecommunications operators and, secondly, due to the lack of serious public policies promoting the development of infrastructure for areas of low population density.

In other words, for companies operating in an open, free and competitive market it is a matter of numbers and economic viability (or the lack thereof) and objectively we can all understand this.

However, the part of the equation that falls to the public administration is more difficult to understand.  The State must take care of all of its citizens Equally regardless of wherever they may be located.

If there is a visible imbalance in the telecommunications industry at implementing conditions that provide access to the latest technology, and in particular to bandwidth, we should all wonder why.

Some would argue that democracies do not understand or appreciate the concepts of territorial justice.  Remote and outermost regions, without economic or political weight, can be “discarded” and placed in a lower level of citizenship.

Unfortunately, without access to the necessary tools for competing in today’s global framework, the citizens of these remote regions eventually end up searching for the means to develop their private economy. The cycle of impoverishment and desertification in such regions worsens and seems uncontrollable. Until, eventually, the government is finally compelled to have a more proper attitude.

This correction is what happened in Portugal, for example.  In 2009, the government launched the construction of the latest generation fibre-optic network to cover the country’s rural areas.  This network is underway and may only be completed in 2015.  However, the attention that the private operators are giving to the infrastructure created is already acclaimed.

Vodafone rural telecom market

For example, Vodafone, one of the largest operators in the country, announced that they would extend their triple-play (TV, Internet and telephone) to this rural network, estimated to reach more than 44 cities in Alto Minho and the Northern interior of Portugal.

“This important step for Vodafone constitutes further movement in relation to the recently announced plan to attain coverage of 1.5 million homes with their own network by mid-2015”, concluded the company’s statement.

This commercial aspect is only one part of Vodafone’s offer in Portugal.  The LTE coverage remains one of the major issues, including for the aforementioned regions.  Mobile broadband speeds are constantly increasing and a sign of this ongoing evolution is the announcement that in December the operator attained speeds of 300Mbps on its 4G network using LTE-Advanced, making it one of the first in the world to attain these speeds over a wireless network.

The speeds were achieved in a real environment, in partnership with Ericsson, with pre-commercial terminal equipment using carrier aggregation of the 1800MHz and 2600MHz frequency bands. This level of speed mean consumers will be able to download a 1GB file in about 27 seconds.

In short, Vodafone is solidifying its global position in mobile Internet and, simultaneously, expanding its presence in rural and remote areas of countries such as Portugal.

Nevertheless, there are many competitive disadvantages to mobile broadband over fixed-lines such as data caps. Coverage is better than the fiber-optic network, but small and medium-sized cities, as well as the more remote villages far from the large city centers, still need more competition to attract new investment and to maintain the investment that’s already in place.

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