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’s Wireless Service

Shakeel Ahmed, friend and a regular contributor at TGP, has the following clip and quick information to share about Wateen’s wireless service in Lahore. The video clip shows a sneak peek by way of the synchronization process of the Motorolla CPE.

CPE was installed in DHA Lahore and has one ethernet + voice port on it. Download speed is around 120-130KBps with next hop latency around 15-20ms.

You can find some previous discussion on the wireless service by Wateen at TGP archives.

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.

Qtel to Invest $80m in Pakistan

Arabian Business is reporting that Qtel will invest $80 million in the next few years via Burraq Telecom that it acquired (75% stakes) in April for $12.3 million. The fundings is expected to bring wimax based Internet to the major cities of Pakistan.

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.

Find The Candy

The long tipped off Mobilink-DVCOM deal is finally making it to the press. The News is reporting that deal with transaction value estimated at $12 million.

DVCOM obtained an Long Distance International (LDI) and WLL license in 2004. Under the LDI license, the company was operating a popular brand of calling card services called Big Time. The brand was the first one to start the price war on Pakistan-US calling destination @ Rs 5 per minute. The market rates (on fixed, WLL and cellular networks) have now dropped down under Rs 1 per minute, thanks to the fierce competition, popularity of the destination and tons of cheap terminating operators in the US.

DVCOM never really put the WLL license to any physical use despite acquiring 1900 Mhz licenses in 9 out of 14 telecom regions of Pakistan.  And so was the case with the 3.5 GHz allocation where the company acquired licenses in 10 out of 14 telecom regions.

So what could be the candy in DVCOM for Mobilink given the fact that Mobilink now has a full-blown PCO business wing? Real Estate? Human Resource? Customers?  None of these exist in the case of DVCOM. The only appeal seems to be the 3.5 GHz allocation that DVCOM has under its belt.

And perhaps this could explain the Wimax homework participations of the 23 million heavy cellular company in Dubai and (up coming) Singapore.

Ovum: Pakistan Leading Wimax Emerging Market

This global Wimax update in the Americas Network mentions Ovum Consulting naming Pakistan as the leading emerging market for Wimax.

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