Casting the Broadband Net
Operators need to work on innovative strategy to capture the low income population for mobile broadband mesh
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.
BANGLADESH Needs a Push
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
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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.