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’.

Various Strategies for Infrastructure Issues

Pakistan has a considerable geographic spread and a populous rural footprint. If cellular services are to be taken forward, better, practically working coverage is required. Pakistani cellular operators understand this and are trying different strategies to cope with the challenge.

Back in 2002, Paktel and Instaphone entered into an infrastructure sharing agreement that allowed both the operators to use single civil facilities for putting up their cell sites. Ufone was a government owned concern so they had little incentive to move in any such direction. Mobilink was a GSM entity and was (at that time), the odd-man out from this alliance.

When Warid and Telenor entered Pakistani market, each had deep pockets filled with forex and lack of local industry trends and social domain information. They went ahead with building their own infrastructure initially.

Fast forward to mid 2007 and everyone now knows about Pakistan, its territory, politics and social landscape. Mobilink has emerged as a giant and the rest of the players are desperate enough to forge infrastructure level friendship!

First, Telenor and Ufone sign an MoU (and incorrectly call it ‘the first of its kind’, forgetting the Instaphone/Paktel deal on same lines way back in 2001~2002) to share their infrastructures.

Now Warid is reportedly joining the duo to form a troika which is very obviously set against Mobilink’s impressive coverage of 5,000 towns/locations across Pakistan. From the Daily Times’ report:

Currently Mobilink is covering over 5,000 cities and towns with over 6,000 sites, Ufone is working in over 750 cities and towns with 1,108 sites, Telenor is operating in over 1,100 cities and towns with 2,900 sites, Warid is active in over 210 cities with 1,200 sites and Paktel working in 218 cities with 893 sites. These all operators cover 70 percent of the population with 35 percent geographically. The MoU is the first of its kind between the two leading mobile phone operators in Pakistan. This is a welcome initiative for the industry, as it will help reduce costs of companies in developing separate sites for their networks.

Paktel has a different strategy for itself. With supposedly cash flow issues resolved, thanks to its China Mobile acquisition, the Paktel management is asking its employees to be part of the network in more than once sense. An email circulated to the employees to this effect states:

Dear All,

You are all aware that with a view of Network expansion, CMPak has awarded contracts to various vendors for establishing ‘Base Stations’.  Consequently, we would be establishing sites throughout the country.  To make the employees as partners, the Management encourages their participation in site acquisition process.  If any of the friends / acquaintances is willing ‘To Let’ property (on rental basis to CMPak) for establishing the sites, employees are encouraged to forward details of such property.

Management is pleased to announce that if any of the sites (referred by the employees) is judged as ‘Prime Site’, the referring employee will be offered ‘Special Reward’ by the vendor.  However employees are strictly forbidden to contact technical staff i.e O & M and Roll out Teams.

The MoUs might be a sad news for aspiring three-storied house owners each of whom had been wishing to generate an additional income of around Rs 40,000 ~ 50,000 per month by renting out her rooftop for the cell site (and, in some cases, enjoying free generator-based electricity during the frequent power outages in some cases!) . However, this should bring a sigh of relief to concerned citizens about the deteriorating cities’ landscapes which, now across Pakistan, are littered with such towers with zero efforts made toward any possible camouflaging of the same.

50 paisas only!

“The market will dive down to the ’50 paisas per minute, anywhere in Pakistan’ level – in five years. ” These were the ‘prophetic’ words that were ‘very in’ two years ago when two additional licenses were given to Warid and Telenor in Pakistan. Telecom executives would announced this to each other. Little did they know that they are only half correct. The 50 paisa per minute anywhere would come but that would not take the whole five years!

The competition in the Pakistani cellular sector is fueling the price war like never before. Although the ‘aath anay’ (old local term for half a rupee) milestone is still not here, the prices have come down to a point where the marketeers of the services can bring in the 50 paisa mention in their sales pitches with fine prints telling us that this is for 30 seconds, on-net and/or for close user groups of friends and families.

CMPak (previously known as Paktel) announced their new package plans which flashes the 50 paisas rate.

CMPak Limited – formerly Paktel and China Mobile’s first venture outside China ñhas introduced a new tariff package named “Power Package”, said a statement on Monday.

It said the package offered its subscribers 50paisas per 30 seconds (on net) the lowest call rates in the market – from 7 pm to 10 pm. Moreover a customer can enjoy three (on-net) friends and family numbers for the same rate throughout the day, it added.

Lower rates, while a welcome news to the subscribers, would also mean that operators would have to be vigilant on their spendings and accurate in their planning and execution.  This would also mean that the operators would have to pay attention to value added services and other revenue enhancers.

CMPak – South Goes to Ericsson

Ericsson is announcing that CMPak (formerly Paktel) has awarded its expansion project in the south of Pakistan to the company. Ericsson will provide GSM and microwave transmission network equipment to CMPak for its expansion project that will cover 312 cities of Sindh and Baluchistan that form the southern part of Pakistan.

CMPak has awarded the expansion project of northern wing of its network  to Alcatel-Lucent that we covered here. 

The news bodes well for the industry in terms of more jobs in the sector particularly in the outsourced contract projects segment. The news also mean that increased network capacity will drive down the cost for the consumer due to increased competition and force the cellular operators to focus more on value added services on their network beyond just voice.

Let us hope Mr Leghari can lure in cellular manufacturers to start making terminals in Pakistan so that the import bill for these terminals can be minimized

CMPak Selects Alcatel-Lucent for Life After Paktel

Alcatel-Lucent is announcing that China Mobile Pakistan (CMPak) has selected the company for provisioning of GSM/GPRS/EDGE equipment for the expansion of the CMPak services in the populous north of the country (Pakistan).

Summary: According to the details, Alcatel-Lucent (through its Chinese presence of Alcatel Shanghai Bell) will provide its high density GSM solution which is needed for higher density urban cities of Pakistan. Alcatel-Lucent is also providing PDH and SDH equipment for the transmission requirements of the new expansion project. Apart from hardware, the  company is also providing network optimization, support and general project management.

Weird Stats

A news item in Daily Times says that Pakistan imported cellular phones worth around $728,000 in the last nine month which according to the news article is 28% more than what we imported last year during the same period.

Umm..sounds strange. The reported figures are not even close to a million dollars. Either the report used the figures of just one vendor or it really got confused with the facts. With an average cost of $100 (Rs 6,000), this figure means that we imported just around 7,280 mobiles? Quite unlikely.

With the average joe Teefa on the street buying a new cellular phone worth $60 ~ $100, no local production of cellular terminals, PTA complaining about insufficient record keeping of SIM issuance and millions of users being added to the networks month by month, even with tax and paperwork evasion, the figures must at least be in tens of millions of dollars.

The Last Train

Most of the articles that appear about Pakistan’s Telecommunications market are sketchy in nature and leave a lot to be desired in terms of details and perspective. Comnews recent article aptly titled ‘ The Last Train‘ is an exception to this generalization. The 5,000 words article nicely covers all aspects of Pakistan’s Telecoms from Cellular to WLL to Wimax.

In the ‘Manna for Investors’ section, the report describes the current appetite for more fundings by the existing operators:

 For investors there are some opportunities to enter the Pakistan telecom market. Apart from buying shares of DIALLOG Company, which is looking for financing sources for expansion throughout the country, other companies like Worldcall and Instaphone also are looking for partnerships.

“Worldcall needs about USD 16 million just for implementation of its WiMax project. And for implementation of all its development plans, including WLL network expansion, HFC and Metro Fiber network construction, we need around USD 50 million,” says Sardar Ali Wattoo.

“We are capable of borrowing this amount, but if Worldcall is of interest to some well-known partner, then the majority shareholders of the company, Lahore businessman Salman Tassir and Sheikh Suleiman Hokani from Oman, are ready to share its shares in the charter capital.”

Instaphone is looking for partners for construction of its digital mobile network. “We are in the process of searching for an investor, as the first phase requires USD 300 million in investment capital. However, we are not taking a passive stance, and already have prepared 700 fields for installation of new base stations,” says head of the company Javaid Firoz.

The Pakistan telecom market is on the radar screen of major industry players. A source in Warid Telecom said that its shareholders, led by Sheikh Mubarak Al Nahaiyan, are in the process of negotiations with Vodafone for selling their share in Warid.

The gradual process of change in ownership of Pakistan telecom assets began last year, and no one is ready to evaluate the effectiveness of these investments.

Recommended reading for outsiders who want to get a good summary of local market as of 2007.

PTA issues MVNO Framework

PTA has issued a terse (three page) MVNO Framework. While the provisioning of MVNO operations was provided in the Cellular Mobile Policy 2004, the brevity of the subject matter left a lot of guessing work for those who wanted to offer the service.

The framework calls for, among other things, separate number series for MVNO operators and the QoS liability has been tied with the MVNO and not the parent MNO.  The framework also offers some pro-MVNO clauses such as the one that does not allow a parent MNO to discontinue the services of an MVNO without the permission of PTA. This clause can open doors to conflicts between the MVNO and MNOs.

Telecard was probably the first operator to offer MVNO-type services on its limited mobility Wireless Local Loop operations in Pakistan. A number of such (wll)-MVNOs had been operating in Telecard’s network in the PCO business where the business is driven by the command of a commercial entity on the customers of a given region.

With constant capacity buildup by  Mobilink, Ufone and now Paktel, excess infrastructure capacity will soon become a reality and selling out that capacity will soon become a big business challenge. The MVNO framework will allow a formal way to these cellular operators to sell of their network capacities to newer marketing outfits that better understand their own customer niches and can probably provider some extra value added services to their crowds.

Warid Going Places

Warid’s Bangladesh operations is going good – as reported here and here, they are said to have registered 150,000 users in first five days of their service launch. This is going for Warid like it went in Pakistan – 1 million users in the first 80 days and 4 million uses at the first anniversary.

Paktel’s Continued Transformation

Cellular News is reporting that Paktel’s stakes were acquired by China Mobile Communication Corporation which is the parent company of China Mobile. China Mobile is a listed company and the move is intended as the investors were cautious on the profitability of the venture in Pakistan due to fierce market competition.

Insiders are reporting that the new company, now renamed as CMPak has started a fresh wave of hiring employees.  The company is also engaged in talks with a long-haul optical network with Malaysian roots to acquire dark fiber pair on long term lease for its nationwide traffic requirement.

Sans Wateen, MTC-Warid Deal Nears Closure

The MTC-Warid deal we discussed earlier, is reported to ‘near closure’. A high ranking ex-employee of Warid with close insiders contacts confirmed the rumors floating in the market since the morning. The interesting twist is the fact that the would-be owners are only interested in Warid and have shown no interest in Wateen, the data and telecommunication infrastructure wing of the Abu Dhabi group.

Wateen is deploying Wimax services in major cities of Pakistan on a Motorola platform, has laid thousands of kilometers of optical fiber across Pakistan and is building a large number of carrier hotels to serve, besides Warid, other telecommunication entities in Pakistan that have traditionally suffered from the monopoly of PTCL for these services.

Warid Goes Regional – Promises for Pakistan

Warid started services in Bangladesh yesterday. The network has been bootstrapped with 900 BTS with 200 more to go. The company plans to invest a total of 800m dollars in the populous country of Bangladesh. Warid can now claim to be a regional player. However, I found the mentioning of ‘European standard network quality’ in the statement given to AFP by the the company’s spokesman a bit ‘Telenor inspired’.

So what does this mean for Pakistan? A lot. At least for the optimists out there. Even if the financial nerve center of the company remains stuck in Abu Dhabi, it seems that Pakistan has a chance to become the supply center for technology and management professionals for the region in the cellular sector. And this has happened before as well. The ailing Instaphone saw the best and most experienced of its technology and management staff moving in hoards to Middle East to work at critical positions for alternative operators like du in UAE and Mobily in Saudi Arabai. With one of the best performing cellular market in the region, there is no reason why Pakistan cannot become the number 1 choice when it comes to cellular professionals.

Here Come Copycat Highend GSM Sets

The local market has lately been hit with look-alike advanced handsets of Chinese origin (just see, don’t buy from this company as they’ve been spamming us around). These copy cats might be missing a number of finer details that the originals are known for but when you have millions of low-income but aspiring youth as your potential customers, there is always room for the lookalikes.

The cell-crazy, potable-water-thirsty nation is expected to have 100 million mobile subscribers. The size of the market is already attracting interest of manufacturers worldwide. Ufone is offering a C123 with Rs 75 balance and the ‘Public Demand’ package for Rs 1,499.

Name Trouble

As projected by G&W about the regulation domain overlap on the Telenor Mobile TV announcement, the Norwegians got a call from PEMRA. Dawn reports today:

Telenor launched TV mobile service late last month without obtaining a licence from Pemra. “Pemra has issued a notice to Telenor, seeking explanation about its mobile phone TV service without its permission,” a spokesman for the authority told this correspondent here on Thursday. ..

The PTA/PEMRA confusion on the regulation of the topic of Telenor’s Mobile TV, it seems, will continue for a while. As we tipped earlier, Telenor might have avoided all this hassle had they named the baby correctly as a Value Added Service. But marketeers, in their efforts of being the first ones, often ask for trouble.

On a related note, Farhan estimates that it will cost Rs 225 per hour to use the service. Hmm.. any couch potatoes around?

P.S: Telenor is happy  on its Pakistan operations Q1 results.


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