PTA’s Consultation Paper on NGN

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has released a ‘consultation paper‘ on its website for public comments. Those who might be short on time to formally comment on the paper can use the comment space here and I will try to incorporate the inputs in my response.

Broadband Penetration – MoITT, USF @ Work

Universal Service Fund (USF) is the company formed to make use of the USF money that PTA has been generating out of the booming telecoms market of Pakistan. So far, USF has worked towards using its funds for the spread of voice services in the under-served markets of Pakistan. Of late, Ministry of Information Technology & Telecommunication has intended to guide USF to do the same towards increasing broadband penetration too.

USF, after some initial work, has concluded that there are no particular areas that could be defined as ‘under-served’ in terms of Pakistan and rather the entire Pakistan is under-served. USF has now asked MoITT to pass a ‘determination’ towards the same fact allowing USF to utilize the funds anywhere and everywhere in Pakistan.

MoITT has published a 39 page study document on the web which seeks to establish this fact (that the entire Pakistan is under-served in broadband services). A consultation session was held in Islamabad yesterday to discuss this matter with the industry. The proceedings and details of the session are still to come out but here are my initial takes on the document and its contents:

The  major conclusion points of the documents are:

  • Pakistan’s broadband penetration is very low
  • Currently there are around 100K Broadband subscribers which need to be taken to 1.6 million by 2010 (1% of population)
  • This low penetration is earning bad scores for us under the WSIS measuring criteria & there is a strong need to improve the same
  • Three approaches have been suggested for the GoP’s intervention in this ‘dismal’ state of broadband affairs:
    • No intervention – leave it to market; slow broadband growth expected
    • Bundle with Basic Services – only rural areas will benefit; existing broadband provides will loose
    • Tackle issue with a new format – dedicated efforts are expected to yield better results; divided in various phases

The document assumes or maintains that fixed broadband is a dwindling trend and wireless broadband will finally prevail (page 23). While this is true for the last mile domain, the infrastructure is ALWAYS wired (read fiber). The guys at the MoITT need to be pointed to this omission in consideration. Pakistan need to have a good wired infrastructure before we can decide which of the two last miles options (wired or wireless) is good for us.

The study also repeatedly mentions the similarity between low tele-density and low broadband penetration. However, the applications/demand side difference between the two (voice and data) is repeatedly ignored. While it is true that the gap between 2.7% tele-density (from where our telecoms boom started off) and current 50% tele-density was one of the reasons for the boom, it was the application (voice) that was ready to exploit this gap. In the case of broadband, a similar gap exists and this gap is what the study is considering as an opportunity. However, as obvious, the difference between our last success (in cellular voice) and current challenge is that of application – do we have compelling applications that will drive the growth that can ride this gap?

The document also does not considers demand creation at all. While supply end enhancements (by way of USF subsidies towards network deployments etc) are more than welcome, a significant portion of the efforts must go towards demand creation activities. Mandatory use of electronic facilities in the business circles, tax cuts for ISPs interconnecting with each other, financial benefits to private TV channels to host streaming servers inside Pakistan, creation of public/open Internet Exchanges etc are all example of such efforts.

Wateen Competition in Catchup Frenzy

The recent launch of Wateen‘s Wimax in Pakistan has put its wireless competition in a catchup frenzy. Reports coming from a number of vendors indicate extensive, short notice meetings that are taking place between providers and vendors and very mature decisions levels. Vendors, who had been chasing the providers for their Wimax platforms but faced an undecided response for quite some time now, are finding the new found sense-of-urgency pleasantly surprising. For them, Wateen’s advances on the Wimax front that attracted both local and international applause appears to have shook the sleeping providers from their deep slumber and procrastination.

IXP in Pakistan

PTA is soliciting proposals for Consultancy Services on the issue of establishment of local Internet Exchange Points in Pakistan.

The last date of submission of such proposal is around the end of Feb 2008. Let us hope PTA gets good consultants to get them going in the right direction and speed.

In this relation, here is an interesting presentation on IXP by Guarab Raj of SANOG and PCH fame.

PTA gears up for IX and Peering Initiative

It comes as a stress reliever to read that PTA is finally inching towards pushing the local Internet industry towards a saner state where local traffic gets cleared locally without wasting the countries foreign exchange and without costings the end users hundreds of useless milliseconds of RTT delays.

PTA has issued an RFP that seeks consultation services on the topic of local Internet exchanges and peering points. I am not sure what direct role can PTA play in private peering as it is mostly a two-party arrangement for their own respective good with little intervention required by any third party. However, the IX domain will greatly benefit from PTA exerting its role and responsibility in bringing major players on-board.

Also, the move is going to have a direct financial impact on the top-of-the-chain IP bandwidth providers like PTCL and TW who currently do not discriminate between local and transit bandwidth and make money for both types of the bandwidths alike. With IX infrastructures in place, customer IP requirements for local needs will drop down in the short term but, as a rule, IX infrastructure will promote the overall appetite of the industry for more transit bandwidth as a whole.

Let’s hope for the best.

Pakistan’s Persistent ccTLD Pains

The painful topic of .pk ccTLD vis-a-vis Pakistan and its fledging ICT boom has been discussed on this blog in the past. Right now, an active debate is taking place on the same topic at Pakistan ICT Policy Monitor list here (yahoo ID required).

Nvu – Urdu Support

Nvu, the open source WYSIWYG web editor now supports Urdu, thanks to CRULP.

We are pleased to announce the release of the Urdu Nvu Windows Installer developed by the Pakistan Country Component of PAN Localization Project (funded by the IDRC) at the Center for Research in Urdu Language Processing (CRULP), National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences ( NUCES).

Nvu is an open-source, multi-platform, complete web authoring system featuring WYSIWYG editing of pages and integrated file management via FTP, which can be used for easy and quick content development. The current release of the Nvu localization includes the Urdu Nvu installer for Windows, which has it’s GUI in Urdu. Work to be done for future releases includes changing the layout direction of Urdu Nvu to right-to-left.   For download and installation details, please go to Urdu Nvu Windows Installer.

Juniper mulling Backoffice in Pakistan

Update: I have been grossly mistaken in putting up this blog post. The company in this report is NOT Juniper networks but a start up called ‘Paxterra’. Paxterra has been formed by a senior Juniper Networks staff who recently left the networking giant to form the new company. The company, among other things, will be getting contractual work from Juniper Networks and intends to get it done locally in Pakistan. So while the headline of this post has proven to be grossly wrong, there is still some original excitement in the news. The confusion was caused because my contact at Juniper Network broke this news to me and the way the dialog progressed, I mistook Paxterra for Juniper. I am sorry. 

p.s: The openings are still there and local Pakistani resources are welcome in this new venture.

Juniper Networks Some senior Juniper Networks’  staff might end up opening a technology back-office in Pakistan. The project, very small right now, can prove to be a great news for the nascent but budding IT and Telecommunication industry of Pakistan.

It is interesting to note that despite considerable sales that Juniper Networks has recently made in the otherwise invisible-on-the-sales-map Pakistan, this is NOT a sales office. Some patriotic and situation-aware Juniper guys have managed to convince the company to have a back end technology office in Pakistan. This is reportedly for the stress testing and other iterative testing jobs for which good engineers are readily available in Pakistan.

If this goes through and continues to grow, from a strategic view point, Pakistan will move upwards the value chain of the BPO business. Let us hope for the best!

The Case for an IX

Internet Exchange - Needs CollaborationThis is about establishing local clearing of Internet traffic. A concept so basic to the Internet that unfortunately remains grossly neglected (or not acted upon due to misplaced fears and priorities by the parties involved).

Before you shouts the word PIE, please note that local clearing should generally have two traits

  • it must happen inside the country
  • avoiding (or minimizing) expensive for-ex costing international links
  • at next-to-free bandwidth rates – using the SKA (sender keeps all) or cheaper local bandwidth models

Focus Karachi (2007) for example:
Three known names to average broadband/dialup users: Worldcall, Cybernet & Multinet. Despite some efforts of optimized routing, the majority of the traffic between these well-known ISPs is exchanged outside Pakistan. The first one is on Transworld (now becoming a mini PIE on its own due to a good amount of ISP customers on its network), the second is on PIE and the third on its own IPLC towards KL in Malaysia.

Short Term Problems:

  • Uniform (high) Internet prices across the industry
  • Unnecessary 20% to 35% for-ex spending on Int’l circuits that could be sold to the right customer at a premium
  • No cheap ‘local bandwidth’ available to users
  • No incentive for ‘remaining local’ to users or content publishers
  • Network outages beyond Pakistan result in network outages inside Pakistan

Long Term Problems:

  • No impetus for establishing local data center for Internet hosting needs (excluding vertical DS such as Banking etc)
  • As more of the country embraces Internet, ‘short term problems’ identified above will get magnified.
  • No mirrors of popular contents – even those willing to place their contents near the Pakistani Internet users are amazed at the absence of local IDCs.
  • No real development of Urdu and other regional languages contents on the Internet. BBCUrdu to remain flag bearer of Urdu on Internet!

As time passes and Internet subscription of these players increases, they will have an automatic incentive to interconnect locally between themselves on private funds driven by savings-as-profits targets. This is considered a positive development and we are all for it.

However, the absence of a neutral NAP or IX discourage non-ISPs willing to get benefit from local cheap Internet bandwidth because the bigger players might want to preserve  their respective ‘exchange-locally-charge-internationally’ status.

Neutral NAPs and IX need data centers and meet me rooms so it might sound like a catch22 at first. However it is not. With at least two to three facilities based optical fiber Internet service providers in all three major cities of Pakistan, a feed-the-goose thinking by the bigger players is the need of the day. Grow the base market and the business will grow in turn.

Karachi again: There is one TIV certified data center in Karachi now. It has a decent MeetMe Room. We have fiber providers in Karachi who can a) use it for themselves to come there at the MMR and b) offer dark core solely for this pull-them-to-IX effort to at least one of their sizable competition. And in here lies the catch. Do they have the heart big enough to do that? For towel-manufacturers head, this is a tall order.

Could someone think loudly on the same lines in Lahore? and Islamabad?

Comrades, help us all think aloud!

p.s I have nothing against towel-manufacturing industry. Just using it as a metaphor.

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.

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.

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!

IP in Telecom Core

News are trickling in about the expected expansion of CMPak’s network. This report talks about ZTE providing a 14,000 carrier radio network and a 10 million subscriber core to CMPak expected roll-out.

Given the boom (pdf) of telecom services in Pakistan, these announcements sound like run of the mill these days. However, an interesting trend to note here is the fact that the core telecommunication equipment is getting increasingly all-IP.

Telecommunication (read voice) networks have traditionally relied upon TDM circuits to work. However, with the success of the IP Technologies in the world of Internet (and the Internet itself), there is a worldwide drift from TDM to IP for everything done at these telecommunication services shops.

According to the agreement, ZTE will provide its next-generation V3 base stations, and the core network will adopt all-IP networking.

What does this mean on ground? The telecommunication power houses will increasing turn to IP networks within their core to serve their various needs – from back hauling voice from their radio networks to their core, to IMS, signaling, billing, customer care and messaging. There will be an increased incentive to build out large, high performance and high availability IP networks in the core to serve this long menu of internal services needed by the exploding telecommunication services.

Other telecom operators who have recently upgraded their networks (or are in the process) have also been putting IP capabilities in the access network to cope with the expected increased demands from cities due to a swelling subscriber population. Mobilink had installed IP (over DSL) pico cells in some part of Karachi to extend its access network in dense urban building areas. I do not have detailed information on this and it would be great if some reader could fill this up for the rest of us.

Pakistan Bandwidth Appetite

I had been meeting a lot of fellow friends in the industry in person lately for a number of reasons. One interesting number that I came out with was that of the total transit Internet bandwidth that Pakistan is currently subscribing to. Between PTCL, Transworld, Multinet (the companies) and SMW3, SMW4 and TW1 (the three cables -and a couple of transponders worth of satellite back up bandwidth) we are talking about an aggregated 2.5 Gigs of IP transit bandwidth (give and take an STM-1).

Not only the figure is respectable, the growth trend that my contacts described is excellent. Drivers for increased consumptions, as we discussed and nodded at, included new DSL services, VoIP traffics and the popularity of bandwidth hogging Internet services like Youtube.

A number of other potential bandwidth-suckers that are waiting around the corner include mass distribution alliances that are expected to talk place between bulk bandwidth suppliers mentioned above and the new distribution channels like Niyatel’s (and other similar outfits in Central Pakistan).

This trend is impressive. Additionally, it also presses the managements of the local industry to come forward and think broadly out of the box for some badly needed but missing standard industry practices like local peering and Internet Exchanges and local Data Centers. If the growth trends continue, it can soon become a major foreign exchange eater and the only way we can reign this in is through localization of traffic within Pakistan.

Linux Competency Center in Pindi

IBM has set up a Linux Competency Center in the NIIT’s Rawalpindi Campus with lots and lots of support gear.

…As part of establishing the center, IBM has donated its range of enterprise systems (including pSeries Unix Servers, Intel Processor-based xSeries and BladeCenter servers, TotalStorage), Printers, PCs, CISCO equipment – all of the hardware running on Linux SuSE deployed by IBM Global Technology Services team. IBM will also provide free hardware and software services for the first year. In addition, IBM Middleware software will be used by NIIT in their curriculum for graduate and undergraduate students under IBM Academic Initiative program….

Managed Services

Managed services are thriving well in Pakistan. Ericsson has been reported to be given an extension of three years for the Managed Service that they had been providing to Warid Telecom in Pakistan. Warid’s network is multivendor and the managed service will cover this multivendor environment.

Managed services bode well for the local telecom environment as under these arrangements, a more professional entity takes charge of the engineering (and some times, even some non-engineering) functions of the telecom business house letting the original license holder customer take care on the core business of marketing and managing the local brand.

Generally in such deals, a large number of employees from the parent telecom company also get transfered to the company providing the Managed Services as regular or contract employees. Apart from become part of (normally) bigger and more structured companies, the practice also has the positive effects of enhancing the technical and administrative caliber of the local man power in general.

A Newage Inspiration

We all know Internet killed geography long time ago. Just like TiVo took the live TV out from the clutches of time and Slingbox freed your TV from your living room, there is one company that thought about enabling any phone company on earth worth its name to let their ‘phone numbers’ set free anywhere on the Internet and make money along the way.

It is not always that a Pakistani origin new-age Internet company makes a wonderful product that not only proves to be a financial success but is also an excellent example of innovative thinking and visionary excellence.

Meet DIDX – DID Exchange, the star product of Super Technologies. Without exaggeration, an attempt to describe Super Technologies, its various products and its contribution to the telecommunication regulation politics in Pakistan will consume a full blog on its own. The company that started its journey from the (then) innovative idea of Internet faxing back in 1987, morphed into a VoIP service company with a Pakistani network, changed to a hosted VOIP platform and finally, the team hit the sweet spot (incidentally as a by-product) of becoming a marketplace for an unusual telecommunication resource that nobody had not spotted before in the same context.

So what is DIDX and what do they do?

One of the core forces behind DIDX is Rehan Ahmed Allahwala. Rehan works alongside his American mates who front the company worldwide in commercial and marketing domains. Rehan leads the team that works on new ideas and commercial gymnastics. Suzanne Bowen is the CEO of the company (and out of her interest in the Pakistani Telecommunication market which, as a by-product, has given him a partner like Rehan – she’s a lurker at TGP too!) The company has a number of developers working OUT of Pakistan. So while it would be technically wrong to call this a ‘totally Pakistani venture’ because of the mix of fine people from so many places, the strong Pakistani contents in their HR is a matter of pride for all of us back at home.

DIDX is about selling and buying an unusual, untapped asset that a lot of telecos are sitting upon – the E.164 numbers they give out to ‘their’ subscribers who take one (or more) service from them. Most of the time, the teleco focuses on the service it is providing and tends to overlook the ‘affinity’ that those numbers carry and the possibility of that affinity being marketed and traded – anywhere on the Internet.

DIDX is the opposite of traditional call-termination market places. In these call-termination market places, participants compete to terminate your call at the cheapest of the rates possible. At DIDX, participants compete to sell their ‘DID numbers’ to those who value them because of their ‘callers’ having a certain affinity or proximity with those numbers. DIDX participants generate revenue because either the number is used from their very own network (for which they get paid anyway by the caller) or from foreign networks (which, again, pay them the termination charges). The only hidden cost of the DIDX participant here is the Internet bandwidth that is utilized for each of the call that originates as a VOIP call from their SIP box to the wild Internet and end up at the original user’s MSN, Google Talk or FWD soft phone (it could be a hard one as well).

Explained in even simpler terms, DIDX enables any telephone company to procure some cheap Internet bandwidth, host a box on that bandwidth, and start selling their telephone numbers to worldwide buyers. Since these numbers would be used by individuals seeking to ‘receive’ calls from the old telephony world to their voiped-up digital universe, there is a very high over-subscription that is possible because not everyone would be using the service all the time. Selling a million odd numbers via DIDX, for example, for $10 ea could give a juicy business figure to a lot many telecommunication companies especially outside North America.

On the other side of the eco-system, DIDX suddenly enables voip islands, like Skype and MSN a steel bridge back to the 4 billion people on earth that still are stuck in the older telephony universe. It takes little time to appreciate the impact that DID has created on VoIP worldwide.

Ever since DIDX went out in the wild, its participants are growing. While the list is long, Skype, Google putting them up as their partners and (just today), Jeff Pulver the grand daddy of voice over IP announcing the partnership of FWD with them are rock solid proofs of the brilliance of the idea and the company behind it.

So best wishes for DIDX, Rehan and Suzanne, and we hope you keep innovating the voip space!

PKNIC Stats

Continuing our discussion of PKNIC and the future of the .pk ccTLD, I was provided some interesting figures by a reader of this blog last week. Faried Nawaz says he has been grabbing a copy of PKNIC’s zone file everyday for the past ~ 6 years. On my request, he’s given a snapshot of the database for a random date (27th Jan, every year) all the way from 2001 till 2007. I’ve compiled the figures in a tabular format to highlight the growth of the various domains (hopefully reflecting the associated sector to some extent) and the entire .pk sphere. Here it is:

PKNIC

First impressions: To be honest, the size of the registry sort of disappointed me by at least 100%. I had always assumed there would have been at least 50,000 total domains registered under .pk. Like elsewhere on the Internet, the .com counterpart at .pk (.com.pk) is leading the herd with six digit registrations in 2007. Runner up, in 2006 and 2007, is the name.pk domain which PKNIC started in 2006.

There is also a marked growth in the overall numbers in 2006 and 2007, the years that have seen strong growth in cellular and voice services. It is plausible that there is a co-relation between increased cellular voice usage in the country and the Internet-based (or Internet aligned) businesses in the local market.

PKNIC charges Rs 2,000 per domain per annum for two years for all domains except the name.pk domains which are available at Rs 1,000 per domain per year for Pakistani customers. Government domains are not charged any fee provided they are able to demonstrate a government agency backing the registration of the domain.

A quick back of the hand calculation will give anyone an idea of the revenues that PKNIC can expect out of these numbers. Leaving that as an exercise to those interested in the dollar figure and focusing back on my initial disappointment at the smallness of the total domains figure, I would request PKNIC to reduce the domain name registration cost further, provider a local face to the single-most important Internet company of the nation, and open up more channels for easier uptake of the .pk domain name by the local businesses.

I am very confident that these ~19,000 domains do not reflect the activity of Pakistan and its business outfits truly. There has to be a tremendous amount of local businesses that have turned to the .com and .net gTLDs just because they were cheaper, or more easily available, or had reseller agents roaming in the street doing the stuff for them without much hassle. Let us work towards increasing the size of the pie and everyone should benefit from it. Just like MADE IN PAKISTAN is (supposed to be) a matter of pride for all of us, let .pk be our badge of honor in the Internet.

PKNIC is talking!

Haris Shamsi who represents among various other entities, Pakistan IPv6 Task Force, reported the proceedings of a recent PTA meeting in Islamabad that discussed a rather extensive 9 point agenda that included exciting stuff like putting up an IX, introduction of IPv6 in Paksitan etc. ‘Bringing back’ PKNIC to Pakistan (a topic we have earlier discussed here and here) topped the agenda list.

PTA had been receiving complaints about PKNIC from various of its customers and of recent, the regulatory body has reportedly made contacts with PKNIC management (that happens to be outside Pakistan) in what is being described as ‘a thick regulatory tone’. Interestingly, PKNIC does not come under any existing service definition of PTA and being a company established outside Pakistan, is immune to any serious regulatory influence. This is despite the fact that the body (PKNIC) is responsible for managing the digital linchpin of Pakistani business and digital citizen life, the domain names that end with a .pk.

Hearing from those who were part of the meeting, it appears that there is a thrust towards ‘bringing it back’ to Pakistan. Without proper thoughts and debates around the subject, such a thrust would be highly ‘misplaced’ and is bound to create more problems than it aims to solve. Also, probably for the first time, PKNIC ‘sent’ two representatives, one of which was a lawyer named Barrister Omer to a PTA initiated meeting.

PKNIC and Pakistan is a sweet & sour story. Very (very) briefly, here is some background:

First the good things about these people: PKNIC’s early owners (it has reportedly changed a couple of hands, I am short on this data) put Pakistan on the TLD early on way before lots and lots of other countries were on the net. They have managed the whole thing without any serious, sustained outage for the .pk TLD as a whole. I can’t remember that in the past 11 years at least I have seen a major ‘not there’ issue with them. However, stories of customers getting high-rates, bad support and 100% irrelevant ‘collateral damage’ outages on their business production sites are abound. They have no real office in Pakistan, no staff (the Barrister mentioned by Haris deserve a photograph on flickr so the millions of PKNIC customers can, for the first time, put a face to the name of the company that is responsible for their digital identity linchpin). The processes and policies at PKNIC were initially closed door but later went through a corporate whitewash to include a number of stakeholders. Domain disputes and hijacking were the most dreaded aspects of life of a PKNIC customer due to various reasons. PKNIC continued to offer free .gov.pk domains to GOP requirements where, reportedly, the only requirement was a letter (not an email!) sent to them on the official letter head of the government agency and the domain get registered and activated. Electronic payments at PKNIC (something we take for granted while dealing with something as ‘nety’ as domain registration) arrived quite late .

Brining PKNIC back to Pakistan is logical and desirable. But how and when? What would the rules be? What is the collective track-record of Pakistan (regulatory and industry combined) in terms of Internet Governance? Are we ready to face an ‘Network Solutions/ICANN’ and post ICANN issues in a Pakistani light?

Some people (including this scribe) are of the view that PKNIC’s obscure and non-customer-friendly thorns aside, the consistency of the service might have heavy attribution to the fact that the body was being managed outside Pakistan in a rather ‘private’ matter. Of course this is highly debatable and views and proves are welcome.

My strictly personal views are that PKNIC is doing a good job and unless we are 100% sure that we can snatch the responsibility from them and run it on our own without making a joke of our digitalselves, we should not proceed in the direction of a total ownership change. My own suggestion in this regard is to let PKNIC continue the operations but bring them under some regulation net. Let there be some customer service benchmarks set for them, pricing would be next and so would be the issue of physical presence of the DNS server inside (and their backups outside) Pakistan.

Network Admins of Pakistan will be discussing this topic among the technical ranks to arrive at some recommendations which will subsequently be presented to the people in Islamabad.

Pakistan-India Fiber Linkup

There are more news about the Pakistan-India fiber linkup via the Wagah border (Lahore/Amritsar). Essentially, the project is inching, not leaping, further. As we discussed back in early 2006, India is said to be reluctant about the equality of the utility of the optical fiber. From the The News story:

It’s not a big issue, but it has to be resolved first before it gets operational,’ said a source close to the development. ‘There are more bottlenecks on the Indian side compared with Pakistan, as India believes the project would benefit Pakistan more.’

An optical fiber link is also being established between Pakistan and Iran.

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