Is it time to get concerned about the lack of news on internet deregulation?  Will this current round of deregulation include bringing in ISP companies that can challenge FINTEL directly?  Or, have we reached the height of the deregulation wave with Digicel’s entrance into the mobile market and high cost of internet access will remain as it is. 

If something is not done about the high price of internet access in Fiji, we can say that the present attempts at deregulation have failed.

Lowering internet costs is directly tied to lowering the cost of doing business in Fiji.  IT backoffice operations have been slow to take root in Fiji because of the ridiculously high price of internet service.

In Fiji, a key challege is providing access to people who live in remote island and rural settings. 

Recent developments in technology have blurred the lines between cellular and broadband internet connections.  This is what is referred to as the convergence between broadband internet and cellular technologies.

An example of this is cutting-edge technology recently launched in the US.  Manufactured by Samsung, the Airave unit (USD $50) is available for sale from a US cell phone provider:

Sprint is offering a new service in select areas of Denver and Indianapolis that delivers customers unlimited mobile minutes while at home. Dubbed Airave, the new femtocell-based system uses your home broadband connection to extend cellular coverage and offer unlimited calling for an additional $15 per month

The benefit of the femtocell-based system should be clear for Fiji.  Deploying cell-phone towers is a very expensive proposition.  But, WiMAX towers can effectively cover a similar range with broadband internet signal at a fraction of the cost. 

Mobile providers Vodafone and Digicel stand to gain by selling these units to subscribers (ensuring brand loyalty) and the people of Fiji are winners because effort can be concentrated on building a WiMAX network coverage that is within reach of every citizen of Fiji.  In order for this to happen, government officials and business leaders have to realize the benefit of working together.

The mobile providers cannot be expected to sign onto ‘open infrastructure’ but the development of this femtocell technology might be the development that could get these companies to support the concept of a public-private partnership to build  WiMax coverage throughout Fiji (see earlier posts on Enabling Universal Access).

For an in-depth discussion of competing 3G and 4G wireless protocols (WiMAX vs. Long-Term Evolution cellular), please refer to this article.

… LTE will take time to roll out, with deployments reaching mass adoption by 2012 . WiMax is out now, and more networks should be available later this year. As for speeds, LTE will be faster than the current generation of WiMax, but 802.16m that should be ratified in 2009 is fairly similar in speeds.

After assessing all the technologies involved, the reasonable conclusion would be that WiMAX technology is where Fiji should be concentrating its effort.  The convergence of broadband internet and cell phone technology is what the future holds.  With right-thinking policy, Fiji has the chance to harness these developments to dramatically improve the reach and quality of connectivity.