Brunei Darussalam: Regulation and awareness key to ICT growth

High-speed internet services should act as a key driver in Brunei Darussalam’s bid to attract investment and transform itself into a knowledge-based economy, although industry experts say further regulatory reform will accelerate ICT uptake and boost penetration.

The Sultanate has made significant progress in rolling out faster and more efficient connection speeds, with growing demand for the services highlighted at a three-day awareness campaign held in early February when state telecoms operator TelBru notched up its 1000th connection to the country’s Fibre To The Home (FTTH) facility.

David Kay, TelBru’s CEO, told the Brunei Times that the first phase of the high-speed broadband project, covering Madang, Gadong and Bandar Seri Begawan, would connect 6000 households and premises this year at bandwidth speeds of up to 30 megabytes per second (Mbps). He added that the operator’s aim was to eventually provide all households with access to broadband, in line with the targets laid out in the long-term economic plan, “Wawasan (Vision) 2035”.

The Sultanate hopes to make the shift to a knowledge-based economy by 2035, with emerging industries such as ICT earmarked for a key role in steering the country away from a dependence on the oil and gas industries. The government also hopes to increase the industry’s contribution to GDP to 6% by 2015, up from its current estimated figure of 2%, as part of the country’s National Broadband Blueprint.

“The Ministry of Communications has identified steps and initiatives to support the implementation of FTTH in Brunei Darussalam,” the Minister of Communications, Pehin Dato Abdullah Bakar, said last November. “FTTH will give us returns in terms of opening new opportunities for economic activity to enhance our nation’s competitiveness.”

Brunei Darussalam already has an advanced internet market, with figures showing that around 85% of its subscribers were equipped with high-speed broadband access in mid-2012. In a bid to improve overall connectivity, mobile market leader DSTCom revealed plans last year to roll out super-fast mobile broadband 4G in the first quarter of 2013.

However, while the project has begun taking shape, D&L Partners, a consultancy firm currently working with the Authority for Info-communication and Technology Industry (AITI), last September suggested that Brunei should make improvements to its ICT environment, addressing regulatory issues in particular, saying such measures would, in turn, enhance the investment climate.

Key recommendations made by D&L in a white paper included “identifying regulatory factors that have constrained ICT adoption; identifying and conducting analysis of cultural factors that impede ICT adoption; and conducting further research to explore the issue of generation gap among users”, reported the Brunei Times.

The firm added that a more pro-active approach was needed to raise awareness among Bruneians of high-speed internet services and their benefits. “Without understanding the vision behind FTTH and visualising the benefits and convenience they can enjoy in their normal social and work activities, citizens will unlikely make use of the new technology,” it said.

AITI’s chief executive, Yahkup Menudin, said in October that applications and user-generated content that lent themselves to high-speed broadband infrastructure could play an important part in attracting users. He also highlighted the recent launch of key initiatives that he said were bolstering the lCT market, such as grant schemes, seed funding, incubation programmes, focus groups and ICT-centric education.

Brunei’s ICT firms are also being advised to keep a watchful eye on end users’ needs. Yahkup said during the launch of the Brunei ICT Awards 2013 competition on February 1 that only by doing this could companies keep up with changing ICT trends. “As technological development is a constant and dynamic process, one of the most important changes that are taking place in the ICT landscape is the consumerisation of technology,” he said.

Yahkup said the competition working committee hoped to see a comprehensive range of key and emerging software products, such as Augmented Reality and smart broadband mobile devices with innovative applications, at this year’s competition. “The key to success in BICTA competition is to apply your innovation and creativity in creating products or services that leverage on these latest ICT technologies,” he said.

Brunei’s multi-faceted approach to supporting ICT development through government incentives, education and new infrastructure, should pave the way for the sector to become a key engine of economic growth. However, the government will need to support regulators by keeping pace with an industry that is constantly and rapidly evolving.

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