Laying the integrated infrastructure foundation for an inclusive digital economy and society

Aida Karazhanova, Economic Affairs Officer
Vadym Kaptur, Consultant

During the current economic crisis caused by COVID-19, there was a decrease of investment in ICT infrastructure due to new priorities and the need to support the emergencies of the pandemic. There were 18 per cent fewer 5G infrastructure points in the Asia-Pacific region in 2020 compared to previous estimates.

Great inequalities in access to the internet remain. Broadband access is limited in the small island developing states in the Pacific, as well as in many countries in South-East and South-West Asia

Access to mobile in North and Central Asia is better than in other subregions. Affordability, however, varies, especially tariffs are high in the Pacific. Mobile communications differ in tariffs and only affordable networks contribute significantly to favourable economic development.

Any new solutions should address the digital divide and digital connectivity against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic. They should illustrate ways out of the sectoral divide, uniting sectors in working towards a common goal. Over 100 integrated infrastructure corridors could be developed to link 62 land borders between ESCAP member States in Asia and the Pacific, with a total length of more than 75,000 km.

ESCAP has developed interactive online tools to help address the serious issues of the digital divide and digital connectivity in Asia and the Pacific. The details are illustrated as follows:

The Infrastructure Corridors Simulator identifies the most appropriate scenarios for the development of new Integrated Infrastructure Corridors. It determines promising economic corridors and technological flows, scenarios for the corridor’s development, the optimal combination of potential partners, and an estimation of the economic efficiency of co-deployment of road transport energy, and IT infrastructure.  To simulate the new corridors at a transboundary level the following need to be collected:

  1. Information about economic and technical flows on the territory of the infrastructure corridor.
  2. Segments of existing or planned facilities.
  3. Site-specific data set for scenario simulation, partnerships model and other additional parametric socio-economic needs of policy-makers.

Using the simulator, policymakers could calculate the economic efficiency of building ICT infrastructure, specifically fiberoptics, alongside transport and energy infrastructure. It can be used for feasibility studies to justify the project budget and to approach investors. Users simply enter data in the online calculator to receive the computed data of economic efficiency and scope of investments.

The simulator enables a significant reduction of labour costs at the pre-project research and design stage as it highlights ineffective options.

At present, the Simulator is built on a parametric model, offering calculus of economic efficiency data for the three proposed corridors connecting Kazakhstan with China, Kyrgyzstan and the Russian Federation. Analysis has shown that the tool is highly effective in identifying the most useful scenarios.

As a next step, operators, infrastructure users and policymakers should identify resources and networks and create partnerships. The centralized portal for co-deployment of ICT infrastructure with energy and transport is available as a featured project on the ESCAP website.  The portal also includes a knowledge base for joint deployment which can assess the compatibility of infrastructure facilities and the cost-effectiveness of joint deployment. It can also assess the enabling conditions for creating partnerships in the field of joint infrastructure deployment. The portal enables partners to learn about each other at an early stage, reducing labour costs at the stage of pre-project research.

In summary, both tools are useful only when the database is created, and matchmaking is undertaken. Using the simulation can save labour costs (up to 300 per cent) during the pre-feasibility phase, and estimate co-deployment efficiency – for example, possible savings of capital and operational cost.

The next round of questions that need to be addressed relate to the institutional, legislative and regulatory capacities for the development of integrated infrastructures.

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