Cast­ing the Broad­band Net

Op­er­a­tors need to work on in­no­va­tive strat­egy to cap­ture the low in­come pop­u­la­tion for mo­bile broad­band mesh

Voice&Data - - MOBILE BROADBAND - Akanksha Singh

Most coun­tries in the Saarc re­gion are strug­gling to fix their so­ciopo­lit­i­cal con­di­tions for many years now. Most coun­tries have been badly af­fected by its po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity and poor GDP growth, which has re­sulted in a strug­gling econ­omy. Al­most all coun­tries in Saarc suf­fer from tough ter­rains; and reach­ing these re­mote ar­eas is the big­gest chal­lenge for the gov­ern­ments. Saarc as a re­gion can be con­sid­ered as the amal­ga­ma­tion of these emerg­ing economies. Al­most all coun­tries are fac­ing se­ri­ous so­ciopo­lit­i­cal is­sues, poor econ­omy, in­fras­truc­tural or tough ter­rain, max­i­mum ru­ral den­sity, and poor lit­er­acy rate. This de­mands a com­mu­ni­ca­tion ve­hi­cle to over­come these loop­holes and un­wind ad­vanced and cost-ef­fec­tive so­lu­tions.

For the Saarc re­gion, em­brac­ing mo­bile broad­band is the need of the hour, to reach tough ter­rains, break the bar­ri­ers of so­cio-po­lit­i­cal road­blocks, solve eco­nomic is­sues with cost-ef­fec­tive so­lu­tions, and de­velop the re­motest ar­eas. Due to the very low pen­e­tra­tion of fixed lines and PCS, mo­bile has a tremen­dous op­por­tu­nity to flour­ish. How­ever the lo­cal con­tent and ap­pli­ca­tion de­vel­op­ment in­dus­try needs to be de­vel­oped to meet the needs and ex­pec­ta­tions of the lo­cal cus­tomers. Given the poor fixed line in­fra­struc­ture, the price of hand­sets, mo­bile de­vices, and data subscripti­ons are still not af­ford­able by many.

Let’s scan each and ev­ery coun­try and x-ray the mo­bile broad­band sce­nario in these re­gions, and look at the pos­si­ble, spe­cific so­lu­tions per­tain­ing to that re­gion.

PAK­ISTAN Snail’s Speed

Pak­istan has one of the most se­ri­ous and un­for­tu­nate po­lit­i­cal is­sues lead­ing to its poor growth in terms of GDP. When we talk about tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, keep­ing met­ros apart, most of the coun­try has poor in­ter­net pen­e­tra­tion. Pak­istan

saw its first 3G launch early this year only. In Q1FY11, PTCL launched Pak­istan’s first ever 3G en­abled tablet.

Walid Ir­shaid, CEO & pres­i­dent, PTCL in­forms, “If we con­sider Pak­istan’s tele­com sce­nario cur­rently, 3G can­not sus­tain. No op­er­a­tor can run and de­ploy qual­ity ser­vices on 3G with the rev­enue fig­ures or mar­gin fig­ures. There can­not be five 3G op­er­a­tors here. They must not en­ter into a price war, which we have seen in the case of the 2G ed­i­fice in this coun­try. There has to be a bet­ter con­trol even with the re­gres­sive regimes to con­trol the price.”

3G will re­quire three times more in­fra­struc­ture be­cause of the fre­quency spec­trum, and op­er­a­tors need to de­ploy more play sta­tions.

“The big­gest hin­drance in the in­tro­duc­tion of mo­bile broad­band ser­vices was re­lated to the pend­ing launch of 3G mo­bile ser­vices in Pak­istan, which is now ap­proved and PTA will be im­ple­ment­ing 3G pol­icy in next three months,” con­firms Dr. Muham­mad Yaseen, chair­man PTA.


Our other neigh­bor Ban­galdesh again is deal­ing with many po­lit­i­cal and so­cial is­sues since in­de­pen­dence. Poor eco­nomic growth has again re­sulted in this re­gion’s un­der­de­vel­oped state. Bangladesh’s long de­layed 3G li­cense auc­tion may take place next year, af­ter the state-owned mo­bile net­work, Teletalk is given a 6-month head start over the pri­vate net­works. The reg­u­la­tor has made sev­eral prom­ises over the past few years that the 3G li­censes would be sold off shortly, but sales have never taken place.

If we look at the tele­com sce­nario in Bangladesh, there is lack of pub­lic aware­ness for data ser­vices and other con­straints like poor in­fra­struc­ture and low pen­e­tra­tion of wire­less broad­band tech­nolo­gies, the fea­tures that can act as so­lu­tions to reach more and more con­sumers in even re­mote ar­eas of Bangladesh, and that’s a ma­jor con­cern.

Op­er­a­tors are of a dif­fer­ent view point. Cel­lu­lar net­works suf­fer some in­her­ent lim­i­ta­tions like in­ter­fer­ence and vari­able speed/band­width, as the to­tal band­width is shared. So it is not an ideal so­lu­tion for the kind of mis­sion/busi­ness­crit­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tions and ser­vices, which need to be er­ror free, high qual­ity, and have guar­an­teed speed. Many op­er­a­tors be­lieve that hav­ing fixed net­works for these kind of ser­vices and ap­pli­ca­tions will be more ap­pro­pri­ate con­sid­er­ing the present sit­u­a­tion in Bangladesh. How­ever till now not much has been ini­ti­ated even for fixed net­works for broad­band ser­vices as well.

MAL­DIVES Set­ting Ex­am­ples

This coun­try of is­lands over­com­ing all geo­graph­i­cal con­straint has set an ex­am­ple for other Saarc coun­tries to learn from. Mal­dives has more num­ber of subscripti­ons than its to­tal pop­u­la­tion, thereby in­di­cat­ing that tele­den­sity is more than 100%.

Wataniya Tele­com is the other op­er­a­tor that pro­vides broad­band and 3G ser­vices in the Mal­dives. It was the first com­pany to launch 3.5 HSDPA net­work in the coun­try in 2008.

In 2010, Dhi­raagu launched its 3G ser­vices and touch­net Pre­paid, the first ever pre­paid mo­bile broad­band ser­vice, in the Mal­dives.

For the Saarc re­gion, em­brac­ing mo­bile broad­band is the need of the hour, to reach tough ter­rains, break the bar­ri­ers of so­cio-po­lit­i­cal road­blocks, solve eco­nomic is­sues with cost­ef­fec­tive so­lu­tions, and de­velop the re­motest ar­eas

Launch of 3G ser­vices in the Mal­dives has seen Dhi­raagu and Wataniya com­pet­ing strongly for cus­tomers. Since the 3G up­take has been fairly well, there­fore the op­er­a­tors have made mo­bile broad­band do­main very com­pet­i­tive in terms of pack­ages, of­fers, and tar­iffs, etc.

SRI LANKA Rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing the Re­gion

An­other trend­set­ter for Saarc and other de­vel­op­ing na­tions is Sri lanka.

This coun­try has wit­nessed a well-sus­tained eco­nomic growth in the past few years and so has the tele­com in­dus­try in this Saarc re­gion. In FY11, mo­bile sub­scribers in­creased by 23% and the to­tal base stands at 17.4 mn, which makes the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion con­nected with mo­bile ser­vices. The launch of the 4th gen­er­a­tion LTE net­work al­low­ing a huge speed of 100 Mbps in the cap­i­tal, Colombo, is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of how the tele­com tech­nol­ogy has reached dizzy heights in this coun­try.

The strict norms be­ing adopted by the Tele­com Reg­u­la­tory Au­thor­ity of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) like the guide­lines on mo­bile broad­band ad­ver­tis­ing speeds are en­sur­ing that the Lankans get what they are pay­ing for!

“Our mo­bile broad­band sec­tor is con­tin­u­ously up­grad­ing its net­works in­fra­struc­ture. It main­tains QOS ef­fec­tively. Cur­rently, the to­tal num­ber of sub­scribers of mo­bile broad­band in Sri Lanka to­tal 386,617,” in­forms Anusha Pal­pita, di­rec­tor den­eral, TRCSL.

Mo­bi­tel is a national mo­bile ser­vice provider. Af­ter its ac­qui­si­tion by Sri Lanka tele­com, it be­came the first mo­bile op­er­a­tor to launch 3.5G HSPA ser­vices in South Asia. With more in­vest­ments com­ing into Sri Lanka, the tele­com in­dus­try will only see a rapid growth in all spec­trum of ser­vices.

AFGHANISTA­N Needs a Head Start

Un­til re­cently, Afghanista­n has been strug­gling to get the ba­sic tele­com in­dus­try’s util­i­ties right. The growth that the coun­try saw af­ter the crip­pling of the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions in­dus­try is quite

phe­nom­e­nal. The tele­com reg­u­la­tory of Afghanista­n is still strug­gling to get 3G auc­tions in place.

Mo­bile data ser­vices has been af­fected be­cause of the de­layed launches. How­ever, con­sid­er­ing the un­sta­ble eco­nomic con­di­tions, the tele­com in­dus­try is not to be blamed for its slow growth. Ini­tia­tives have been taken, in bits and pieces, in or­der to get a move­ment of growth started; a lot needs to be done at many lev­els by the reg­u­la­tory, min­istry, and op­er­a­tors as well. In the com­ing years, mo­bile broad­band and other data ser­vices will pick only af­ter 3G or 4G launches, but un­for­tu­nately the peo­ple of Afghanista­n have to wait for a longer time.

BHUTAN Lag­ging Be­hind

When we talk about coun­tries where reach­ing the last mile is a task be­cause of geo­graph­i­cal con­straints, talk­ing of mo­bile broad­band and priv­i­leged tech­nolo­gies will be un­re­al­is­tic. The mo­bile sub­scrip­tion rate in Bhutan grew by 10% in FY11 as com­pared to FY10. The to­tal num­ber of cel­lu­lar sub­scribers has reached 4 lakh.

But broad­band ser­vice us­ing 3G tech­nol­ogy is lim­ited to just the cap­i­tal city of Thim­phu.

“We cur­rently have about 14 Node B’s op­er­at­ing and by the end of the year we will add an­other 4 Node Bs here in Thim­phu. In 2012, we have plans to roll out 3G ser­vices in about 5 new lo­ca­tions out­side the cap­i­tal city. So, the pen­e­tra­tion of mo­bile broad­band as of now is neg­li­gi­ble, “says Karma Twe­shang, CEO, Bhutan Tele­com.

The king­dom did not churn out much in terms of rev­enue and growth on the 3G front. The coun­try launched 3G ser­vices in 2008 and yet has still not launched it at a pan-bhutan level. Though it has pro­vided a good al­ter­na­tive, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to high-speed data con­nec­tiv­ity, but still noth­ing much has been done at this front.

“Given the na­ture of our ter­rain, it would be very dif­fi­cult to build a mo­bile broad­band ecosys­tem which is just right for Bhutan. In other words, it is very dif­fi­cult in our case to build an op­ti­mal

We, as the Saarc re­gion, need to learn and un­learn a few con­cepts so that some con­struc­tive ac­tions and steps can be taken to im­prove and strengthen mo­bile broad­band pen­e­tra­tion in this re­gion

net­work that in some way adds to the in­vest­ment cost. Cur­rent am­bi­gu­ity in the mo­bile broad­band space, as I see it, is the choice of tech­nol­ogy—3g vs LTE. On the one hand, we might be say­ing that we want to ex­pand 3G net­work; but on the other hand, we are think­ing to jump on to in­tro­duc­ing LTE tech­nol­ogy,” says Twe­shang.

Though the present con­di­tion of the tele­com in­dus­try in the coun­try may be a far cry from other Asian coun­tries, which are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the use of 3G/4G tech­nol­ogy and video­con­fer­enc­ing, but it has made a world of dif­fer­ence to the lives of the peo­ple of Bhutan.

NEPAL Still in Phase 1

Rel­a­tively un­der­de­vel­oped, the Nepalese mar­ket does not seem too in­ter­ested in broad­band right now. The ma­jor im­ped­i­ment is lower pur­chas­ing ca­pac­ity, as there are other press­ing needs to be ful­filled be­fore opt­ing for the so-called lux­ury needs of broad­band ser­vices. The pro­duc­tiv­ity that could be po­ten­tially achieved through the adop­tion of broad­band ser­vice could be not re­al­ized due to the low avail­abil­ity of rel­e­vant con­tent and ser­vices for the users.

“Even though 3G au­tho­riza­tions were given long back to 2 mo­bile op­er­a­tors, they have not been able to sell the ser­vice as was thought. The cov­er­age of the 3G ser­vice is lim­ited and the cost of the ser­vice is rel­a­tively high, and con­tent and the ser­vices that could be po­ten­tially uti­lized is lim­ited,” says Anand Raj Khanal, di­rec­tor (tech­ni­cal), NTA.

Ncell launched 3G ser­vices in the Mt Ever­est re­gion and has es­tab­lished the world’s high­est 3G base sta­tion at an al­ti­tude of 5,200 m.

“As an op­er­a­tor in Nepal, over the years the ma­jor chal­lenge re­mains that of pur­chas­ing power and price elas­tic­ity. This is the big­gest road­block for the op-

er­a­tors in Nepal, also to de­velop a right ecosys­tem for broad­band pen­e­tra­tion as well. The other sec­ondary chal­lenge re­mains cam­paigns and ex­per­i­ments. Not much is be­ing done till date for cus­tomer ed­u­ca­tion con­sid­er­ing that the ma­jor part of Nepal is ru­ral ter­rain,” ex­plains Pasi Kois­teinen, Ncell.

Nepal to­tally re­lies on im­port of CPES, hand­sets, and also the in­fra­struc­ture. The con­tent and VAS providers are slowly in­creas­ing, but not at the pace it should have been. The de­vel­op­ment, what­ever has hap­pened, has hap­pened on an ad hoc ba­sis.

IN­DIA De­layed Ef­forts

The In­dian tele­com In­dus­try pro­vides a very in­ter­est­ing pic­ture in the Saarc re­gion when it comes to mo­bile broad­band tech­nolo­gies. We see the data hun­gry and broad­band needy In­dian con­sumers be­ing of­fered de­layed and poor qual­ity data ser­vices, in­clud­ing mo­bile broad­band.

Till last year, 3G auc­tions gave hope for bet­ter and high-band­width mo­bile broad­band to In­dian con­sumers. But all hopes faded with the launches. 3G, though has been launched in In­dia by most op­er­a­tors, has not seen the suc­cess that the in­dus­try had an­tic­i­pated. The fail­ure of 3G is def­i­nitely a set­back for other up­graded tech­nolo­gies like BWA. The 3G li­cense hold­ers have spent close to 68,000 crore on just get­ting spec­trum and must have spent a huge sum on lay­ing out the 3G net­work, but so far the op­er­a­tors have failed to roll out ser­vices in all of their li­censed cir­cles.

Anand Narang, mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor, Huawei De­vices says, “The 3G data cards ecosys­tem is ma­tur­ing and evolv­ing in In­dia. There are 2 streams of prod­ucts, one from the op­er­a­tors, ie, closely bun­dled don­gles, and the other un­locked don­gle in the open mar­ket—ready to work with any con­nec­tion. Pen­e­tra­tion is also a fac­tor of 3G band­width avail­abil­ity cou­pled with net­work roll­out.”

Over the last one year, many op­er­a­tors have an­nounced their in­ter­ests in LTE and most of them have made some kind of tri­als and de­ploy­ments.

Look­ing at the In­dian sce­nario, where the spec­trum is scarce and the man­date of pro­vid­ing broad­band ser­vices to the masses is her­culean, the need of the hour is to se­lect a tech­nol­ogy which is flex­i­ble, cost-ef­fec­tive, and fu­ture-ready

Most of the op­er­a­tors, af­ter get­ting the BWA li­cense in June and spec­trum in Septem­ber-oc­to­ber, had said they they would launch the ser­vices in the sec­ond half of 2011; but no one has made any progress of that sort so far. Look­ing at the In­dian sce­nario, where the spec­trum is scarce and the man­date of pro­vid­ing broad­band ser­vices to the masses is her­culean, the need of the hour is to se­lect a tech­nol­ogy which is flex­i­ble, cost-ef­fec­tive, and fu­ture-ready.

Re­liance In­dus­tries (RIL), the only op­er­a­tor with pan-in­dia BWA spec­trum

For more re­lated ar­ti­cles go to voicen­

in In­dia, is plan­ning to launch ser­vices in Mum­bai and Delhi in Jan­uary 2012, though it has not made any state­ment of­fi­cially as of now on its roll­out plans.

Kanika Atri, head, mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Nokia Siemens Net­works In­dia says, “To cope with in­creas­ing de­mand for broad­band mo­bile data ser­vices, op­er­a­tors need to cost-ef­fec­tively op­ti­mize their trans­port net­works. Fur­ther­more, us­ing new wire­less tech­nolo­gies such as HSPA and WIMAX for broad­band con­nec­tiv­ity re­quires a dra­matic in­crease in ca­pac­ity for cell sites. As a re­sult, pres­sure mounts on the trans­port net­work.”


We as the Saarc re­gion need to learn and un­learn a few con­cepts so that some con­struc­tive ac­tion and steps can be taken to im­prove and strengthen mo­bile broad­band pen­e­tra­tion in this po­ten­tial re­gion. In the Saarc re­gion, lack of aware­ness about mo­bile data, mainly mo­bile in­ter­net us­age among con­sumers is one of the main chal­lenges.

Op­er­a­tors and ven­dors op­er­at­ing in this re­gion need to come to­gether and un­der­stand and frame a unique and dif­fer­ent game plan to cap­ture the po­ten­tial mo­bile broad­band mar­kets of low in­come and low in­ter­net pen­e­tra­tion.


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