KYIV -- Ukraine’s first 4G auction raised $89 million Wednesday, with top players Kyivstar, Vodaphone and Lifecell all buying licenses to bring the next generation of mobile service to Ukraine.
The auction, on the 80 MHz frequency spectrum, is the first of two, with the next set for later this spring. It’s a significant step for a nation that lagged years behind Europe in adopting previous generations of mobile telecommunications technology.
As the nation’s cities take digital leaps forward, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman warned that far more than 4G is necessary to bring information access to most of Ukraine’s citizens. HE spoke Tuesday at Kyiv’s Unit City to the nation’s top digital executives.
The issue is the “digital gap.” Slow infrastructure development means Ukrainians in rural areas have far worse mobile and Internet access than their counterparts in large cities.
“The digital gap doesn’t allow a boy or a girl in the villages to have modern knowledge,” said Mykhailo Schelemba, Director General of Data Group, a leading telecommunications provider.
Only two out of 10 rural Ukrainians have Internet access, Schelemba said, predicting that without good digital education, a generation of rural Ukrainians would end up as manual laborers. The majority of Ukrainian schools and healthcare facilities do not have access to broadband Internet at all.
Schelemba’s estimate is about right, according to Stepan Kubiv, First Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine, who added that only about 5.5 million Ukrainians total have access to high-speed Internet. This is about 20% of the adult population.
The government wants to close the gap. Anticipating private investment of about $3 billion annually, Ukraine’s goal is to triple the number of people who have high-speed access by 2021.
Data Group’s Schelemba had bigger ambitions yet. Addressing Groysman, he said that all of Ukraine’s schools could have internet—satellite or otherwise—with the investment of only $7 million.
Groysman expressed his doubts.
“If all schools and kindergartens could be covered by that—well, I don’t believe it,” he said. He proposed meeting with digital providers to discuss the possibility.
Meanwhile, legislation on improving Ukraine’s digital services inches through the Rada, according to Oleksandr Danchenko, chairman of Rada Committee on Communications and Computerization.
The legislation’s slow progress hinders industry, said Groysman. At present, there are no standards in Ukraine to regulate the telecommunications industry. “Broadband” could mean 100 megabytes -- or it could mean one gigabyte. Until standards are defined, companies face a chaotic market.
“We need to define these things as a part of infrastructure,” said Groysman.
Slider photo: Prime Minister Groysman listens to digital executives at Kyiv's Unit City. (Aisha Down)
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