In light of Edward Snowden’s revelations concerning government intrusion online, most people want their government as far away from their internet connection as possible.

But Mohamed Madkour from Huawei believes that government’s role in the mobile broadband landscape is incredibly important.

Madkour says government needs to provide five things to operators to insure that they can connect users to the world wide web.

The first on his list of five is spectrum. “Spectrum needs to be released quicker and there needs to be more of it,” says Madkour.

In Africa operators have an average of 110MHz of spectrum, by 2020 projections suggest that figure should be closer to 300MHz but without government sign-off, that becomes a legal minefield.

The second thing Madkour says governments need to do is insure that the spectrum that is available is technology and application agnostic. This means that all operators would be able to harness the spectrum regardless of what equipment they use or what applications they wish to run on top of it be that internet TV, or social networks.

The point that jumped out at us however was the fact that government needs to facilitate foresights. In developed markets there are 1000 connection sites per 1 million people. In Africa that number falls to 240 sites per million. Government needs to provide scope for growth so that when the technology is available it can be deployed. What’s more is that government needs to let operators build capacity before it is needed.

Government also needs to mobilise services to a greater extent. As Madkour says if people can see value in using mobile broadband they will use it. But implementing services which use mobile broadband government can make the technology more attractive to citizens which drives demand for mobile broadband.

What Madkour doesn’t mention however is how the cost of connections should be regulated. This is something which should be looked at. There is no point in making a service attractive if the people your are attracting are unable to afford the service.

Finally, and this is the important point – government needs to educate people on how to use the internet. While looking at pictures of cats is a rather relaxing experience, government needs to educate those who have been unconnected for so long as to how the internet can empower them.

These five things can be accomplished through the rollout of LTE and while there is much talk about 5G and the benefits it brings, Madkour says that it isn’t vital to the development of access in Africa.

“I think intially, in the next 3 or 4 years we don’t need it,” says Madkour. “In the next three years, LTE and the evolution of LTE like 4.5G is enough. These technologies are able to provide gigabit per second speeds, host multiple services and most importantly LTE and 4.5G have the capacity needed to connect the many African’s around the continent that are still unconnected.

While 5G is something that Africa can start planning for but its uses at the moment – which include connected devices and connected cars to name a few – are objectively less important than connecting the unconnected.

While government is often looked to for policies surrounding ICT, as Madkour points out, its role should be much more hands on. Only by working with ISPs and operators can something truly be done to connect the next billion people to the internet.

[Image  – CC BY SA 2.0 Robert Cutts]