The Case for Shared Infrastructure in the Telecom Industry

As the economies of GCC countries continue to progress, there is a growing demand for telecom capacity through broadband and 5G. Meeting this demand requires significant investment in infrastructure by operators. However, if each operator creates its own fiber, it can lead to overcapacity and unnecessary spending, resulting in higher costs for consumers.

A report by Ericsson predicts that 73% of all mobile subscriptions in the GCC will be for 5G by 2026. Unless these issues are addressed, investors will struggle to provide affordable services.

On the other hand, operators who share infrastructure could benefit from a win-win scenario. Instead of developing new proprietary infrastructure, companies can optimize existing infrastructure through sharing arrangements. This reduces capital expenditure, increases returns, and encourages greater investments overall. The operator owning the fiber gains additional income, while the operator utilizing the extra capacity benefits from lower costs compared to starting from scratch. End users can also enjoy cost savings.

Countries like Malaysia have already embraced the shared infrastructure model. All operators in Malaysia have agreed to share a common 5G infrastructure, ensuring affordable and quality services for the entire population. However, such collaboration among companies is uncommon as competition thrives in the corporate world. This raises the question of whether infrastructure sharing should be enforced by government mandate.

Furthermore, there is an argument for organizations to share customer data along with infrastructure. Government authorities responsible for approving infrastructure investments need insights into the utilization of existing infrastructure, which can only be provided through data. While data sharing may lead to privacy concerns, sectors like healthcare could benefit from cheaper services and higher quality of care. However, caution must be exercised when sharing data with unrelated entities.

Imagine a world where telecom operators share data with the fire service to locate active devices in a burning building, or where a transport authority communicates with a hospital about a road traffic victim. These examples highlight the potential of data sharing for the greater public good. It requires access to citizen data, and while government access to data can benefit society, the analysis and application of this data should be carefully regulated.

The challenge lies in ensuring that global players like Facebook and Google, who retain control over data, are brought on board or dealt with appropriately. To truly optimize infrastructure, these giants must be involved.

Building the infrastructure of the future necessitates fundamental changes that may disrupt the status quo. While many questions remain, in a world with limited resources, sharing can go a long way to address inefficiencies and benefit all stakeholders involved.