DST in an Internet Age

Last night, Pakistani clocks have been moved forward by an hour to implement the Daylight Saving Time which is aiming at reducing some of our energy costs. DST is debatable, to say the least. Look up for the topic and you will see how many arguments exists in its favor and against.

That we have an evil energy crisis at hand (which is bent upon slowing us down even when we have just started to move forward as a nation) is a fact. And fighting a crisis of 21st century with a 100 year old trick might not be the coolest thing to do.

With teledensity in Pakistan being touted as the highest in the region and Internet finding a mainstay in our dailylives, we need to look at innovations that can conserve energy for the nation. The regular options that come to mind such as telecommuting, mobile transactions and remote control of energy spending gadgets might validly be a pass-time for the advanced world. However, I believe that the power of having almost half of the nation talking to each other via cell phones should be harnessed via a social campaign to reduce our power consumption.

Why can’t we have a ring tone campaign similar to ‘go musharraf go’ such as ‘bijli bachao doostoon’ (friends, lets save electricity) and social SMS campaigns saying ‘turn one power consuming item now’? Why can’t the chain-letter-loving nation send energy conservation messages to each other to raise the awareness on this critical issue. The connected Pakistan is a large, influential audience which, if it acts in harmony, can make big changes happen.

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.

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! :)

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.

CMPak to cover AJK

AJK and Northern Areas of Pakistan is a lucrative telecoms market due to the historic absence of basic fixed telephone (wired) and a high remittance-rich local population with strong connection in the United Kingdom and other European countries.

This area was served by a semi-military, semi-government telecommunication organization that goes  by the name of SCO – Special Communication Organization which used to had exclusive rights of telecommunication services in the region. Of late, SCO had collaborated with various companies for WLL, GSM and Internet (DSL & Dialup) to offer these services in the region.

Telekom blog is reporting on this further:

CMPak, the wireless operator formerly known as Paktel, has confirmed that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has amended its licence to allow it to provide wireless services in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and the Northern Areas (NA).

According to the CEO of CMPak, the new licenses will allow the company to extend its coverage to the scenic northern parts of the country. In February 2007 Millicom International Cellular (MIC) sold its 88.86% stake in Paktel to China Mobile Communications Corp for USD284 million in cash. In May 2007 China Mobile acquired the outstanding shares from the Arfeen Group (10%) and others. CMPak has embarked on an aggressive network expansion plan since the acquisition, with China Mobile expected to spend USD400 million in 2007 in expanding the network.

Paktel Revives Marketing

Paktel is reviving its marketing. In a show of ‘newage’ factor of the company, it has come up with a series of animated clips and talks about mobile manners. Such tangential approach, if sustained for a good amount of time, would generally work very effectively towards lifting Paktel’s recent past marketing pitches where they talked about ‘paisas’ and ‘seconds’ and being ‘the cheapest’.

The ads are fun to watch:

I wonder if these animations have been produced in Pakistan or have been ‘imported’.

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