Unleashing the potential of ICT requires investments

The economic and social benefits of ICT are clear. However, this impact could be significantly increased if the penetration of ICT, including mobile phones, broadband, and PCs, was expanded. Figure 5 shows the coverage of these technologies in the different regions of the world. Developed countries have room to continue to expand their current penetration of these technologies, but also—and possibly more pressing—emerging economies need to close the gap with more advanced economies to reap the benefits of ICT. If they can, ICT will likely bring them even more significant benefits than it will to developed economies.

Increasing the penetration levels of high-speed broadband, mobile, and PCs wasin developed and developing countries will be extremely costly and is not likely to be profitable for ICT companies alone. For example, in the EU15 countries, McKinsey estimates that the capital investments required to bring high-speed, fixed broadband networks will be as much as 250–300 billion over the next couple of years.30 But in this same region, the industry will generate some 250 billion in cash flows over the next five years.31 That means that the industry would need to invest all available cash to build these networks, leaving nothing for maintenance or other types of network upgrades, or anything else.

At its current investment rates, the industry would take some 15 years to roll out new networks.The situation is obviously even more unbalanced in emerging economies, where penetration levels are lower—and consequently the necessary investments would be higher—than in Europe. The estimates above indicate that governments, at least in Europe, will need to invest large amounts of money to enable their countries with ICT. Making these investments work will require a concerted approach among all industry stakeholders.

The Singaporean government is working on stimulating the demand for ICT services by sponsoring a broad range of programs such as e-learning, e-health, and e-government. It is creating initiatives to put several sectors of its economy at the global technological forefront.The e-logistics program, for example, aims at orchestrating supply chain processes in the logistics industry, which includes the busiest port in the world in terms of tonnage, to increase manufacturing productivity in Singapore.

Supporting the ICT strategy financially Initial government financial support to a country’s ICT strategy is crucial since economic benefits and demand for some of the new services will necessarily be unclear for industry players. Many countries in the world have made significant investments in the past couple of years (Figure 6).

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