Telecom Activity Roundup in AJK & NA

This report from Daily Times provides a good activity roundup relating to new Telecommunication initiatives in Azad Jammu Kashmir and Northern Areas. From the report:

In the wake of October 8 earthquake, the PTA granted temporary permission to mobile phone companies operating in Pakistan for provision of services in quake-hit areas. Later on, they were invited to obtain permanent licenses for AJK and NAs against the ILF of $10 million each.

Subsequently four mobile companies Mobilink, Ufone, Warid and Telenor acquired licenses by paying 50 percent of the license fee ($5 million) each upfront as per the terms of the payment. The $20 million (Rs 1.2 billion) collected by PTA from four operators has been deposited with the AJK Council Secretariat and Chief Secretary, NAs in the ratio of 77:23 based on the population of the two areas. Their share was Rs 927.696 million and Rs 277.104 million respectively. In view of special circumstances, PTA has not deducted any fee from the amount.

The fifth mobile license for AJ&K and NAs has recently been issued to CMPak (Paktel) for which the fees would be deposited under the same arrangements. All five mobile companies will pay remaining 50 percent (i.e. $5 million each) in 10 equal annual installments.

It may be mentioned that, with the introduction of mobile phone services people of these areas are getting enhanced communication facilities. So far, cellular operators in AJK and NAs have provided one million mobile connections. Mobile service is available in the following areas of AJK including Bagh, Bhimber, Bharhing, Kotli, Muzzafferabad, Palandri, Rawalakot, Mirpur, Dhirkot, Ghari Duppatta, Hattian Bala, Dhudyal, Barnala, Kakra, Islam Gargh, Dirkot, Chamankot, Baloch, Sehnsa, KhuiRatta, Hajira, Tarar Khel, Abbas Pur, Jaraee, Rajdhani. Thraowchi, Puna, Sumani, Charoi, Fatepur, Barnala, Paniola, etc. In Northern Areas Gilgit, Hunza, Chilas, Skardu, Shigar, Danyor have been provided mobile services.

Moreover, Special Communication Organisation (SCO) which was the major provider of telecom services in the region till very recent is working on its several developmental activities including Rural Telecom Uplift Project Phase-II for provision of 80,000 telephone lines (along with 266 km Optic Fibre), enhancement of GSM capacity by 65,000 lines, laying of 570 km optic fibre, 26 digital exchanges with VSAT connectivity and laying of outside plant (OSP) in NAs.

SCO is also planning to lay optical fibre cable link for international connectivity between China and Pakistan.

SCO has also taken initiatives to provide Internet services to these areas in the form of Dialup, DSL and CDMA 1X services by entering into O&M agreements with existing providers in Pakistan.

Telenor & MNP

Image005.jpgThe image below is from an extremely low income area – infact, a slum in Karachi. A small cabin-shop that deals in mobile phones, PCO and allied services is serving the population of the katchi abadi.

Owning a cell phone is pretty common even in the very-low income groups in (at least) the bigger cities of Pakistan – thanks to the celluar services boom we are finding ourselves in these days.

As could be seen from the poster visible in the image below, someone who cannot even spell Telenor correctly has pasted these posters across most of similar shops in the slum announcing the MNP facility. When I inquired about this from the shopkeeper whether this is a service exclusive to his outfit he replied in negative saying instead that this is being ‘done by the company’. As we can well decipher, it does not seem like a Telenor’s official announcement but it is almost certain that Telenor has at least some amount of resources dedicated for hooking up even the baseline low ARPU customers into its folds via the MNP route most probably via some sort of market agents.

Dialup Internet Access To Cost More

Reports in the media are pointing towards a possibility that PTCL has plans to start charging for the UIN access (access to special Internet Numbers called University Internet Access Number that start with the characteristic 131 digits) from a single call for the entire call duration to a time-based pulse charging mechanism.

Shahzad Ahmad of Bytesforall.net has summed up the case at PakistanICTPolicy forum:

This is horrendous, outrageous, unethical and unacceptable. This is not ON PTCL! Government of Pakistan, you can NOT approve this evil plan. Would you like to block and limit people’s access to Internet in the country?

How could PTCL take back the affordability of non-metered calls facility for dialup Internet access? Curse of monopoly!  In a country of 160+ million people, where number of Internet users is already very low, just around 4 million and now PTCL wants to further reduce this number? This is just lust for more money and profit. This is robbery by PTCL on Internet users.

For many years now, ICTs have been one of the major focus of the Government of Pakistan. May it well be due to market dynamics, modernization drive, peculiar circumstances, the country seen some massive, though unbalanced growth in different areas of ICTs penetration in the country. Pakistan formulated its first ever IT Policy in 2000, followed by an ambitious Action Plan.

Since then, a huge investment has been made in ICT infrastructure in the country.  Special facilities like non-metered Internet calls (where only one local call will be charged for any amount of time), even for long distance from small towns were quite unique steps for providing Universal Internet Access. We still remember the days, when Dr. Ata ur Rahman, then Minister of IT would take a lot of pride in his each TV appearance, always mentioning this revolutionary step. Indeed, at that time non-metered calls contributed very positively, providing global Internet connectivity to remote cities and towns in the country. In fact, this resulted Pakistan having the most extensive Internet coverage among the countries of South Asia.

We actually never believed in this TV report breaking the news that PTCL is taking back the facility of affordable non-metered calls and now a call will be charged every 15 minutes of the connectivity time. This means that for each 24 hours of internet usage, the user will pay extra for 96 calls at the rate of approximately Rs. 2.50 per call making the bill to be around Rs. 240/- in addition to ISP charges.

Currently, a user pays about Rs. 300 per month for 24 hours unlimited dialup connection and then telephone bill costs around 35-40 calls a month. This makes the Internet connectivity very possible at reasonable cheap rate in this country, where larger population is low income.

In the changed scenario, where PTCL wants to charge more money for each dialup call, believe me students community will be the most affected. People who need 24 hours connectivity for email/Internet will suffer immensely.

Let’s join hands to raise voice to stop PTCL from its money grabbing tactics. It is so silly that a dialup connection will become much more expensive than a DSL.

Just to let you all know that Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK) has issued a protest call on Monday, the 24th September, 2007. They plan to talk to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority as well. If nothing happens then ISPAK plans to move Supreme Court of Pakistan.

We request all concerned civil society organizations, relevant associations, individuals and media outfits to please help stop this evil plan of PTCL to block and limit people’s access to Internet. Yes, it indeed is blocking people’s access to Internet. Lust for grabbing more money from poor people of Pakistan is actually not going to contribute any good to the overall socio-economic development of the country.

If PTCL goes ahead with its evil plan, we propose “take-back-the-net” campaign and country wide protests. We will involve all relevant associations, IT Industry, media and general public to stop this. If PTCL insists on continuing with this plan then Government of Pakistan should provide alternatives to Internet users in the country. PTCL’s monopoly is unacceptable.

Mobilink embraces data

The long on-going, almost over-due project was declared signed and closed with Alcatel-Lucent. Daily time has the full story here. This is going to be the second major countrywide Wimax project, the earlier one being deployed by Wateen and uses Motorola’s gear. The project, whose financial size or commercial availability dates has not yet been publicly disclosed, reportedly makes extensive use of the strong channel sales partners that Mobilink has developed in the rewarding cellular market of Pakistan over the past many years.

The next similarly sized announcement should come from PTCL which is still talking to a number of solution vendors in this domain. Apart from these three large scale projects, a number of other entities, some of which are in the security infrastructure of the country, are deploying Wimax technology for their respective requirements.

There are till a number of players like Telecard and Cybernet who won the 3.5 Ghz frequency in the open auctions during deregulation but are not moving ahead with their Wimax adventures for want of some business case precedence and internal priorities.

Prepaid Easyload

Prepaid cellular services have been such a success in our part of the world that the otherwise business and professional account holders that go for post paid options are paradoxically marginalized in a number of ways. Let me explain.

If you have a prepaid account which just has a balance of, say, Rs 50, you can make international calls right away. When your balance expires and you load a new scratch card, the balance get transfered immediately to your account and you are back in business. Finally, to cater for the low-end users, there are countless outlets that provide you both with recharge scratch cards and sms-driven ‘easyload’ service – that allows a finer granularity of pre-paid balance to be transferred to the subscriber’s account.

My postpaid connection experiences were a set of disappointments when juxtaposed with the prepaid connections accounts my family member had. While they enjoyed international outgoing facility, my Warid account provided by my previous employer did not have that facility turned out despite the fact that I had a credit balance of Rs 2,500 at that time. When I turned to Telenor later this year, I made it a point to have the International calling facility on the plan – as if getting it was something that much attention worthy. Others already had it. To my disappointment, Telenor’s franchise apparently messed up with the account opening procedure and I had to actually request Telenor to turn the facility on. So much for being a postpaid customer.

Next, when it comes to bill payment, one has to find a Telenor office or a franchise location that by the way are not too many. While matters are apparently ok at the original Telenor offices around the city, the franchise offices that I experience (three of them) where all a sorry tale. Not only was customer services were bad but the actual payment system was a pain too. Deposited amount took ages to appear in the account. In one case, even when the account received the deposited money, the system could not take it out of the previous ‘suspended’ state. It took them over 12 hours to let me make the first outgoing call. Privileges of a post-paid customer!

I had always wondered why the ‘esteemed’ customers of these cellular companies cannot buy a top-up card like their pre-paid fellows and have their balance limit enhanced when this is needed at an odd hour of the day or an odd corner of the city. Better still, with easyload thing being done everywhere, why can’t I easy load a few hundred rupees in my postpaid account to keep it fueled up?

So I was happy today to receive an SMS from Telenor that they have started doing the obviously apparent customer service thing – allowing easyload on postpaid connections for Telenor customer service. I must use it tomorrow and share the experience here. If all works as advertised, Telenor has done itself a real good by enabling its post-paid customers to keep going – just like their prepaid cousins.

Now only if I could ‘donate’ some balance to a prepaid Telenor buddy of mine off my postpaid credit limit! :)

Etisalat might double stakes in PTCL

In what seems like a signal that the party night is still young, Etisalat is said to be considering an increase in its shares in PTCL from 26 per cent to 51 per cent. A repeat order, after all, is a sign of the ordering partying enjoying the value of the stuff ordered!

DUBAI (Reuters) – Emirates Telecommunications Corp. (Etisalat) said on Sunday it was considering doubling its stake in Pakistan Telecommunications Co. to 51 percent.

“We are evaluating that option and once we’ve arrived at the decision that this is positive, we will talk to the (Pakistani) government,” Chairman Mohammed Hassan Omran told Reuters. He declined to say when the decision might be made.

Etisalat had earlier bought 26 per cent shares and management control in a privatization deal with the Government of Pakistan. The deal has been repeatedly attracting objections, criticism and bad press for a number of reasons ever since it was struck in 2006.

Industry fellows at  PTCL regularly disclose that change in the organization so far is skin deep. The absolute mess in fields of customer services, presentation and heck, even the corporate website is the reason that a makeover in these areas appear to be so ‘image changing’. The first batch of change-makers that the company is said to have hired are all from non-technology sector and the middle management at PTCL criticize that ‘no one is addressing the technical issue that actually deserve the real attention’.

However, we also need to appreciate that quantum personality changes that go deep below the skin is no easy task giving the size and responsibility – both technical and social – that lies at PTCL.

CMPak’s plans for R&D and Training Center

CMPak (former Paktel) is mixing corporate social responsibility and profits.

On September 2, CMPak won approval from the Pakistani government to secure a 15,000-sq-m plot to build a campus with integrated functions of research and development, training, and commercial use.

Sounds good!

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