Cabinet approval for Mongolia’s first satellite in late 2012 makes clear the height of the country’s ambitions for improving information and communications technology (ICT) provisions. Although a satellite launch is an ambitious objective, improving on-the-ground infrastructure will prove to be just as significant, and as challenging.
In November, the cabinet approved the “National Satellite for Communications of Mongolia” project, the centrepiece of a collection of goals identified as part of a national vision to transform the economy into a knowledge-based economy by 2021.
Although the country has long relied upon space communications to link its widely distributed population, there is no domestic satellite in service. Instead, $2m is paid each year to rent other nations’ satellites. This includes use of the “Ipstar-5” broadband satellite for delivery of TV and radio programmes to rural areas, the “Intelsat” satellite for telecommunications and mobile phone services, and low orbiting satellites for digital data on weather.
The new satellite, which is set to launch in 2015, is planned to provide domestic communications, including TV, internet, radio, e-services and government links. “Regardless of the geographic location, individuals, herdsmen, households and organisations will have access to wireless communication services at a low cost nationwide,” noted local media.
Increasing levels of technical hardware suggest a satellite link could play an important role in building ICT capacity. Imports of IT products rose 30% year-on-year (y-o-y), including a y-o-y rise of 30% in desktop computer imports and a 50% increase in laptop computer imports.
Initial estimates for the price of the satellite project predict MNT630bn ($441m), with MNT280bn ($196m) slated for research and MNT350bn ($245m) for the launch and maintenance. Funding is expected to come from the state budget, the private sector and foreign assistance.
It has been anticipated that the satellite project will earn some $50m in its lifetime and trends suggest profits in Mongolia’s ICT industry are set to rise. According to data from the Information Technology, Post and Telecommunications Authority (ITPTA), revenue generated by the sector rose from MNT140bn ($98m) in 2005 to MNT539bn ($377.3m) in 2011.
Given its expertise and bilateral relations with Mongolia, Japan will likely play an important role in the satellite project. In March, former Prime Minister S. Batbold signed a memorandum of cooperation with Tokyo that outlines measure for cooperation for technical studies on communications satellite systems and earth observatory satellites. In the same month, the government also signed an agreement with Singapore to work together on ICT activities and projects that aim to help transform Mongolia into a knowledge-based society. This agreement outlined cooperation on exploration of concepts such as enterprise architecture, cloud computing, project management and e-government.
In addition to the satellite project, the National Broadband Programme (2011-15) is a government plan to ensure that at least 50% of all households have access to inexpensive broadband connections for bandwidth-intensive services, high-speed internet and television. The government also plans for 40% of households in remote areas to have access to a wireless broadband service.
Currently, 175 soums (villages) out of 331 are connected by 18,700 km of fibre optic and 8400 km digital microwave network. The ITPTA estimates that 100% coverage would require some 40,000 km of installed capacity.
However, social media survey figures released in December by Japanese firm Cereja Technology underline the popularity of ICT in the country, with 17% of the population using Facebook.
The country has also been quickly rising through the ranks of global networking surveys. The International Telecommunication Union in October placed the country 84th in its annual “Measuring the Information Society” report, a rise of three places on 2011. Meanwhile, Mongolia performed well in the Networked Readiness Index 2011-12 released by the World Economic Forum in April, achieving 63th place out of the 143 counties surveyed, a significant rise on 85th out of 138 nations in 2010-11.
There are also government plans to improve ICT security and regulation in tandem with the development of technologies. In April, the cabinet approved an e-governance action plan for 2016. Officials have said that the action plan will benefit from the approval of a draft law on e-signatures to enable the creation of a legal environment. There are also plans to strengthen the role of the Communications Regulatory Commission of Mongolia in regulating competition issues and the provision of networks and services for fixed-line and wireless telecommunications.