Sunday, 28 October 2012

Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan: Technological leap-frogging, fact or fiction?

It is commonly assumed that less-developed countries, which may not necessarily be constrained by years of investment in fixed-line infrastructure, can overcome the ‘digital divide’ by simply ‘leap-frogging’ ahead of developed countries by deploying less expensive wireless infrastructure. 

However, research by Howard (2007: 136) suggests that the instances of this occurring are rare. For example, during the period 1995 to 2005, only five countries (which were already wealthy) managed to ‘leap-frog’ some of the global communications technology leaders.

Yet during a recent follow-up research field-trip to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, I was surprised to learn that the take-up of mobile technology in the Kingdom had achieved more than 100% penetration since my last field-trip in late 2009.

Howard (2007) did not include Jordan in his study, yet the Kingdom is clearly leap-frogging well before achieving maturity in the fixed-line market.

Indeed, fixed-line subscribers in Jordan declined from 10.84% of the population in 2006 to 6.79% in 2011, while mobile subscriptions had increased from 76.61% in 2006 to 119.75% in 2011 (Source: Jordanian Department of Statistics 2012).

Admittedly, some 39% of Jordanian mobile subscribers have more than one mobile subscription, so the digital divide persists.

At the same time, Jordan's telecoms market is the second most competitive in the Arab world.

In my research, I am interested in how institutions help or hinder the deployment of communications technologies. Jordan provides a unique case study as this developing nation's telecommunications industry is clearly getting on with the job.

Although many industry players appear frustrated by the quality of service role the TRC has adopted, the regulatory framework is certainly not hindering the take-up of mobile telephony.

Similarly, household access to Internet services has more than doubled from 15.6% in 2007 to 35.4% in 2011.

While much research focuses on competition as a major enabler of communications technology penetration, I am curious as to whether Jordan's laissez-faire approach to the coordination of networks in favour of market intervention via a quality of service role is responsible in large part for the stellar performance in communications technology penetration.

Compared with Australia's slow deployment of the expensive National Broadband Network, one thing is clear: Jordan is doing something right.

References:

Howard, P.N. (2007). Testing the Leap-Frog Hypothesis: The impact of existing infrastructure and telecommunications policy on the global digital divide, Information, Communication & Society, 10(2): 133-157. 

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