By GERARD BEST
PHILIPSBURG, St Maarten—The Caribbean will have to strengthen its Internet infrastructure if it is to keep pace with the world’s growing digital economy.
That’s the view held by Bevil Wooding, an Internet Strategist with US-based non-profit Packet Clearing House, an organisation providing operational support and security to critical Internet infrastructure around the world.
Speaking to an audience of telecoms sector executives and government officials at the Caribbean Peering and Interconnection Forum in Phillipsburg, St Maarten, Wooding contrasted the high speed of change in the global Internet landscape with the relatively slow pace of Internet infrastructure development in the Caribbean.
He cited he recent Visual Networking Index from technology hardware giant Cisco, which estimates that by 2021, more than one billion new Internet users and 10 billion new devices will more than triple global Internet traffic. Video will account for 82 per cent of all traffic, mobile will represent 20 per cent, and online gaming will be the fastest-growing residential Internet service. Gamers and other users will enjoy much faster service, as broadband speeds will practically double, from 24.7 Mbps in 2015 to 47.7 Mbps.
But while the rest of the world rushes to cash in on those lucrative markets, Wooding says the Caribbean faces a real risk of being left behind. A major factor, he said, is the persistently slow pace of Internet infrastructure build-out across the region.
“Faster, bolder steps must be taken if the region is to seize the development opportunities that the Internet economy offers. The translation time between talk and action must be dramatically shortened,“ he said.
Telecommunications service providers aren’t the only firms that will need to upgrade their hardware. Government ministries and private companies across the region will also have to invest more heavily and wisely in the technology underlayer that drives modern digital economies as well.
“The cost of infrastructure build-out is too important and the timing too significant to leave to private-sector decision-making alone. Governments and private sector investors will need to form far more fruitful partnerships if the Caribbean is to effectively drive technology-enabled business innovation, social inclusion and economic development,” he said.
He also predicted that the global economy will become increasingly unforgiving to regions with failing and outdated infrastructure, particularly small-island developing states like those in the Caribbean.
“Computer networks, mobile broadband, and Internet-connected services are now an essential feature of the modern digital economy. Neither businesses, governments nor citizens can ignore this reality. Important decisions about network build-out, human capacity building, and network security are no longer the sole preserve of traditional telecommunications providers. These issues are now the concern and the responsibility of governments, businesses and individuals at every level.”
Hosted by the Internet Society, Packet Clearing House and the Caribbean Network Operators Group, the Caribbean Peering and Interconnection Forum brought experts and execs into a common space to discuss Internet infrastructure from a Caribbean perspective on July 5 and 6.