‘Knowledge and information sharing between Saarc members can help our countries’
Walid Irshaid, CEO and president, PTCL held the reins of Pakistan Telecommunications Company Limited (PTCL) in March 2007. He has been instrumental in boosting the leadership position of PTCL. He has contributed immensely in elevating PTCL through an impressive growth and by maintaining the competitive market edge. PTCL launched broadband in 2007 and the service is available in over 1,100 cities and towns across Pakistan. Recently, Irshaid was facilitated with Teletimes International Leadership award for best broadband services. He has been driving PTCL towards success.
He held leadership roles with Etisalat for 16 years; led Investcom in Lebanon and Paltel in Palestine; and as president, FLAG Telecom Middle East & Africa garnered immense experience. He has spearheaded a multitude of million dollar projects in both public and private domain related to both infrastructure and advanced VAS.
Speaking exclusively to VOICE&DATA, Irshaid shares the on going developments in Pakistan telecommunications sector and PTCL while also emphasizing on the need for mutual cooperation from Saarc countries towards the betterment of the industry in particular and empowerment of people on whole. Excerpts
CEO and president, PTCL
Are you in talks with any PC/ handset vendor for developing the access device for the broadband network? If no, why; if yes how?
PTCL remains the largest and fastest growing broadband service provider in Pakistan. Our DSL customer base has registered an increase of 50%, with 95% market share. PTCL is the leader in wireless and wireline broadband in Pakistan. PTCL is leading the broadband revolution in the country from the front. Through its policy of upgrading and expanding its broadband reach—both on its traditional copper network and through the development of its fiber optic network—ptcl has managed to firmly place itself as the undisputed leader in the broadband sector in the country.
In the first quarter of the current year, PTCL launched Pakistan’s first ever 3G enabled tablet with built-in EVO Wireless Broadband. ‘3G EVO Tab’ is a 7-inch touch screen tablet, which is powered by Google Android Froyo 2.2 operating system, it offers support for both 3G and Wi-fi for
uninterrupted and on-the-go internet connectivity. EVO Wireless Broadband is enabling the wireless broadband revolution in Pakistan with flexibility to roam freely like never before. PTCL EVO has revolutionized the way people connect to the internet by offering true mobility.
3G EVO Tab is the most recent of all our innovations that PTCL is producing in line with our vision of introducing future based communications technology. We are constantly innovating and improving our customer experience.
What, according to you, will help build the right mobile broadband ecosystem? What are the loopholes for this ecosystem in your country?
Would like to talk a little about 3G because it is like talking about totaling your investments. 3G is not going to be an infrastructure laid for the voice. Even today, most people use it on 2G. 3G is primarily intended to bring internet and fast speed broadband on to the web. But in the current industrial environment in Pakistan, 3G cannot sustain. No operator can run and deploy quality services on 3G with these revenue figures or margin figures. There cannot be 5 3G operators here. There has to be only 2-3 good 3G operators. They must not enter into a price war, which we have seen in the case of 2G edifice. There has to be a better control even with the regressive regimes to control the price. Operators must be able to provide quality service. 3G will require three times more infrastructure because of the frequency spectrum, and operators need to deploy more play stations.
With these figures it will be a challenge and operators will struggle. They can control it by first of all making sure that only selected, serious, and committed operators come forward. There has to be a few selected ones and they have to avoid the price wars, which really tends to destroy the valid position to the customers and to the operators. Also, 3G cannot be offered without quality.
From the internet downloads of the Pakistani people, we can determine that the Pakistani market is absolutely ready. In comparison to Europe, US, or even the Far East; the number of hours spend on the internet and downloads is far more in Pakistan. For example, the average download for Pakistani consumers in broadband is around 18-20GB, while in the US, it doesn’t even exceed 5 GB. Today, broadband is used not merely for playing games but also for business.
What are the challenges of telecommunications in Pakistan?
Liberalization of the telecommunications sector happened in Pakistan at one stroke. Today, there are companies like Telenor, Warid, Mobilink, and Zong in Pakistan. Although they are large companies, however they don’t have financial comfort because of the erosion of rates and stiff competition. Today, the rates Pakistani consumers pay for using mobile and cellular are the cheapest in the world because of competition and deregulation. But I also think that the deregulation policy was strength of PTCL is the quality and resources of our professional people. We have a huge reservoir of in-house professionally trained people from which PTCL and the whole country is benefiting.
Do you think cooperation from other Saarc regulators could increase penetration in your country? If no, why; if yes, how?
Cooperation among Saarc regulators will always help. I feel that as a regulator, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority is ahead of other Saarc regulators to the extent that they have developed very liberal telecommunications and media regulatory regimes, which can be demonstrated from the number and types of licensed operators currently in Pakistan. Also, knowledge and information sharing between Saarc members can help our countries to address common problems such as digital divide, access to information, and spread of education. Together,
The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority is ahead of other Saarc regulators to the extent that they have developed very liberal telecommunications and media regulatory regimes
a little bit too liberal and too advanced for this market. Even today in the neighboring countries, regulators are guarding the prices. They don’t allow operators to decline revenues and offers, and just offer prices like this. This market will have to consolidate. Otherwise, it will be a losing proposition for every operator.
What are the core strength areas of PTCL?
PTCL’S core strengths are its vast infrastructure spread all over the country, cutting edge information and communications technologies, and ever-improving customer care network and services.
We are the single biggest operator with a national coverage. Another key
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we must develop and promote these as South Asia’s strong socio-economic indicators.
What is your year-on-year investment?
PTCL has been investing constantly $150200 mn a year. If we consider our group investments—including our cellular subsidiary Ufone—it comes up to $400500 mn a year. Since Etisalat acquired 26% strategic shares in the PTCL group in 2006, substantial investments have been made in enhancing and consolidating its infrastructure. Etisalat has come to Pakistan as a long-term investor. We have no reservations about making the right investments at the right time, and we are always considering long-term investment opportunities in this country.