hard cell

Tele­com op­er­a­tor Sea tel dis­cusses the chal­lenges and strate­gies fac­ing Chi­nese com­pa­nies abroad

The World of Chinese - - Frontier - BY HATTY LIU将4G网络铺去东南亚

When Thai­land’s gov­ern­ment backed out of an agree­ment to lay 870 kilo­me­ters of high-speed Chi­nese rail­way through the coun­try last spring due to fi­nanc­ing dis­putes, skep­tics were quick to sug­gest cracks were ap­pear­ing in China’s “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) ini­tia­tive.

In­deed, for a project on the scale and am­bi­tion of a mod­ern-day Silk Road, which aims to build in­fra­struc­ture con­nect­ing around 50 coun­tries (and count­ing) over land and sea, most peo­ple were sur­prised that road­blocks hadn’t ap­peared sooner.

Over the past year, as an­other high-speed rail project failed to ma­te­ri­al­ize in In­done­sia and plans to build a vast in­dus­trial park sparked protests in Sri Lanka, crit­ics hav­ing been im­pa­tiently try­ing to fig­ure out the end­goal of China’s over­seas in­fras­truc­tural in­vest­ments— will OBOR ul­ti­mately de­liver any­thing new, or will China just ferry all the same goods to more coun­tries some­what faster than be­fore?

To one Chi­nese-owned pri­vate telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion provider, the South­east Asia Tele­com Group (Sea­tel), the an­swer is quite clear: build it, but make sure you have to have some­thing to de­liver too.

“Some of the Chi­nese projects [un­der OBOR] are about build­ing other in­fra­struc­ture, such as of­fice build­ings for the lo­cal gov­ern­ment; some…are pro­vid­ing equip­ment. Very few, prac­ti­cally no com­pa­nies in­vest in or op­er­ate tele­com projects,” says Zhang Yudong, Sea­tel’s Chief Ad­min­is­tra­tive Of­fi­cer. “For this prod­uct, be­cause the end-users are the gen­eral pub­lic, we can have an idea of the feel­ings about the prod­ucts and ser­vices from a Chi­nese com­pany and the ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies.”

Af­ter all, the an­cient Silk Roads from which OBOR took in­spi­ra­tion were not so much de­fined, phys­i­cal routes than a loose network of trad­ing links, sus­tained by the ap­petite for fine Chi­nese silk and other goods. It was the silk that cre­ated the road—not the other way around.

“So far, most of the prod­ucts pro­vided, de­liv­ered, or con­ducted by Chi­nese com­pa­nies [in the re­gion] are pro­vid­ing ba­sic in­fra­struc­tures to the de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, like build­ing bridges or build­ing reser­voirs or build­ing roads,” Zhang says. He be­lieves Sea­tel is at the fore­front of some­thing dif­fer­ent: “Our com­pany is in the busi­ness of pro­vid­ing high­tech tele­com com­mu­ni­ca­tion, so if our prod­ucts are ex­cel­lent and out­stand­ing, then the lo­cal peo­ple have a bet­ter im­pres­sion of Chi­nese com­pa­nies.”

Specif­i­cally, Sea­tel is in the busi­ness of pro­vid­ing what aims to be the “most ad­vanced 100 per­cent 4G VOLTE [voice over LTE] mo­bile com­mu­ni­ca­tion network in [the] South­east Asia area,” ac­cord­ing to the com­pany’s of­fi­cial state­ments. As mo­bile op­er­a­tors usu­ally use 4G (LTE) sys­tems for car­ry­ing data only, re­vert­ing to 2G or 3G sys­tems for car­ry­ing voice, Sea­tel’s plans would make it the first 100 per­cent 4G car­rier in the re­gion.

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