In recent decades, technologies that first appeared in more affluent countries now have global reach. With this expansion comes new opportunities to bring technological advances to undeveloped or underdeveloped regions of the world. While this is both a humanitarian pursuit and a potentially lucrative business strategy, there are several things that must be considered before bringing new technology to developing countries.
One of the most needed types of technology is telecommunications. International markets have exploded and the mobile market, in particular, accounts for a significant portion of the global telecom market. This, coupled with the increasing privatization of telecom companies in many developing or newly industrialized countries, has created a landscape ripe with opportunities to penetrate new markets.
Expanding into new territories not only benefits the people who live there, but it also serves telecom companies, giving them a way to reach even more customers. However, telecom industry growth in these markets is not without challenges. Here, we’ll discuss some of the major roadblocks the telecom industry faces when expanding into unchartered territory.
When expanding into underdeveloped countries, there are often policy considerations companies should be aware of. In economically disadvantaged countries, technology infrastructure is often an afterthought and existing telecom markets are typically under strict government control. Policy reform is either slow or non-existent, so patience is critical for telecom companies looking to expand into these countries.
One of the main policy-related issues is government resistance to foreign companies and the desire to maintain national control. Research shows that many consumers in these markets are eager to have improved access to mobile communications, despite prevailing opinions about foreign investors revamping their telecommunications infrastructure. However, in some African countries, many consumers view the prevalence of foreign investors as a form of re-colonization. These people feel they have little to no say in what goes on around them, between government regulations and foreign investors’ agendas.
With regard to policy and public opinion, foreign investors must develop a sound strategy that focuses not only on public-private partnerships to build the infrastructure needed to support new technology, but also on investments in the communities the technology will serve. This approach represents greater collaboration among investors, governments, and local communities, and is thus more likely to be successful.
The Conflict Between Ever-Changing Technology and Underdeveloped Nations
Another major consideration when bringing new technology to underdeveloped nations is how quickly technology changes. Constant upgrades and new technology are commonplace in first world countries, yet underdeveloped countries often lack the infrastructure to keep pace with these changes. This presents a challenge for two reasons: new technology is often expensive, and it becomes obsolete quickly. Upgrading outdated telecom infrastructure is also a costly, labor-intensive endeavor that requires considerable time and planning.
One way to combat this challenge is through more strategic planning. Decision makers in the telecom industry should carefully develop both long and short-term plans that address the very real possibility of obsolete technology and/or inadequate infrastructure to support new technological breakthroughs. Short-term considerations should focus mainly on financials and how customers will be served, while long-term considerations might include building consumer confidence, determining the technologies most likely to address the country’s main telecom issues, addressing standards, and anticipating new technologies and how they will fit into the long-range plan.
Striving for Consistency Worldwide
Telecommunication services are continuously expanding into new territory and as these services grow globally, issues of maintenance and standardization naturally arise. Obviously, developing standards that can be implemented worldwide makes upgrading infinitely easier—as well as promotes free trade—but standardization is particularly difficult to accomplish for several reasons.
First, the pace of technology development is fairly rapid, and setting standards too soon can be a mistake. As stated earlier, long-range plans should anticipate that technology changes every few years, so being too aggressive with standardization efforts can often backfire, preventing innovation and locking a country’s telecom industry into a certain course of development prematurely.
Another reason consistency is so hard to achieve is due to software and hardware communication protocols. These sets of rules for the transmission of information take time to develop, and upgrades often demand more high-tech equipment that is manufactured by competing industries, making standardization difficult.
It seems easy to separate developed nations from those that are still in the process of development, but these nations are in need of robust telecommunication technologies and services, just like their developed counterparts. Business now takes place in a global economy and facilitating communication, regardless of location, has never been more important.
Bringing new telecommunication technology to developing countries is critically important in terms of facilitating the spread of information, reducing language barriers, promoting education, and bringing national economies into the 21st century—not to mention improving quality of life for billions of people around the globe. Telecom companies will need to remain cognizant of potential barriers to expansion and develop plans that adequately address challenges.