The development of mobile technologies and services in the last two decades has had massive implications on the ICT landscape. Mobile technologies enable mobility and flexibility in the use of ICT services. Mobile technologies have primarily been driven by voice telephony but in their development, they embrace the whole portfolio of converged services, particularly when it comes to wireless standards and the new generation mobile technologies.
The emergence of mobile communication has influenced the telecom regulation at all different levels. Licensing and frequency management have been the main regulatory issues for the introduction of mobile services. Furthermore, the regulatory design related to interconnection and tariff regulation, pricing, numbering etc. have been important in making a competitive and innovative mobile market to develop. Due to its ‘time to market’ and flexibility, mobile communication has been important in offering telephony to developing countries.
Taking off in about 1990, mobile communication has gone from being a rare and occasional service based on expensive pieces of equipment used by businesses to an integrated part of daily life based on a pervasive low-cost personal item. In many countries, mobile phones now outnumber land-line telephones. Today there are more mobile than fixed lines in every single region of the world. However, a distinction must be made between the European phenomenon (and growing North American phenomenon) of every man, woman and child having a mobile phone, and the developing country experience of there being more mobiles than fixed-line phones, but primarily just for adults, because there are so few fixed lines and mobile has been cheaper to deploy. The latest indicators from ITU show that “By the end of 2004, the world counted some 1.8 billion mobile subscribers (including both second and third generation mobile subscribers), or 28 per cent of the world’s population. Some 58 per cent of these mobile subscribers were located in developing countries.”
This means that after only 15 years of roll-out, a new communication mode based on its own networks and a new set of services has been globally established.
Mobile communication has a history stretching back to the 1940s with radio phones, with hand-held cellular radio devices based on analogue technology being available since the beginning of 1980s. Due to their low establishment costs, rapid deployment and cheap terminals, mobile phone networks based on digital cellular technology have spread rapidly throughout the world. The digital mobile phone has become ubiquitous because of the interoperability of mobile phones across different networks and countries. This is to a large extent due to a general acceptance by operators and equipment manufacturers of the GSM standard which was designed for Europe-wide interoperability. All European nations and some Asian nations chose it as their sole standard, and according to the GSM Association (GSMA), the global trade association representing mobile network operators, it is active across 210 countries of the world. Countries such as Japan and South Korea have selected another standard, CDMA, as their sole system, whereas in the US both standards have been introduced.
This has implied an explosion in connectivity. In the developed world, the connectivity options available have multiplied enormously. Once, there was only the fixed-line telephone and people had to wait to more than six months before the telephone company installed the phone. Then, from 1990, the mobile phone changed the way in which people live and communicate. In the lesser developed world, mobile has for the first time brought communications to many living in remote and rural locations. Particularly in these countries, the availability of prepaid services, where the subscriber does not have to commit to a long-term contract, has helped fuel the take-up of mobile.
Developments in device technology are also playing a key role in this development. Moore’s Law, associated with the first wave of technology, has enabled dramatic increases in the computing and processing capability of portable devices, whilst ensuring that costs and prices fall significantly. Information, music, video and data can be stored in large amounts on small form factor devices and transported easily and quickly, making content virtually ubiquitous. Today, the mobile phone can play MP3 files and handle MPEG4-tasks. This represents a total shift in the communications paradigm.