interview


A broadband view from Bangladesh

Grameenphone's Munir Hasan

Munir Hasan, director of long term strategy and broadband at Bangladeshi carrier Grameenphone, and a speaker at next month’s Broadband World Forum in Paris, talks to Telecoms.com about some of the challenges facing telcos as well as the key issues being debated in the industry today.

What are the biggest challenges facing the mobile broadband market as a whole right now?

I see lack of awareness about mobile data, mainly mobile internet usage, among consumers as one of the main challenges. Since people are not aware and do not understand the utility and use of it there is a fear of adoption. Traditionally we are a country with very low PSTN penetration (one per cent) and very low PC penetration (0.5 per cent). This has actually contributed to the lack of knowledge regarding internet and data.

Due to the very low fixed line penetration and pc penetration, mobile (43% penetration) has tremendous opportunity to flourish. However, the local content and application development industry needs to develop to meet the needs and expectations of local customers. Also, necessary, favourable regulation and policy frameworks for mobile broadband growth need to be in place.

Given the poor fixed line infrastructure, and the fact that mobile operators are only offering EDGE and at limited places CDMA-EVDO and WIMAX, in many urban areas there is insufficient speed available for the youth and advanced users.

Finally, the price of handsets, mobile devices and data subscriptions are still not affordable to many.

Given your low fixed line penetration, can next generation wireless technologies such as LTE serve as a substitute for fixed services?

Cellular networks suffer some inherent limitations like interference and variable speed/bandwidth, as the total bandwidth is shared. So it is not an ideal solution for the kind of mission/business critical applications and services which need to be error free, high quality and have guaranteed speed. So we will still have fixed networks for these kind of services and applications. However, there would be increasing amount of applications moving from the fixed domain to mobile domain with the increase of available speed in the mobile networks and introduction of more advanced smart phones.

And what challenges will these technologies present in terms of backhaul?

The main challenge with backhaul is actually to create a prognosis for future capacity and quality requirement (dependent on the kind of future services you’ll be offering) which are the main driving factors for choosing the right technology and right products. However, if this backhaul deployment can be seen as an opportunity, and if there is a business case, backhaul should be designed to support multiple and converged services like fixed, mobile and broadcast. Also the technology and platforms should be scalable and software upgradable.

Is there a genuine demand for faster mobile data speeds such as 100Mbit/s and beyond?

For the mass consumer segment it will very much depend on the kind of devices available for multimedia on the move. I do not think the devices currently available are attractive and convenient enough to use 100Mb or more on a continuous basis. At this moment this is a little over-hyped as it would require quite a bit of transformation in our social and professional life to use this kind of speed. But specific applications like m-banking, m-health, m-education and m-security might very well make use of such speeds.

There’s clearly demand and pressure to continually upgrade a network to keep pace with technology developments. But does this conflict with the need for return on investment?

The current business model of retail and wholesale is not sustainable. We have to be able to set the price based on the importance of the service to our customers. Also, we need to position data and broadband as a tool that can be used to increase efficiency and productivity, be it for a student or, professional and business users.

We need to differentiate between what can be classed as a utility and what is the value added part. Let’s say the ability to download a fact sheet may be a basic offering but to guarantee the download to happen in 30 seconds without any error can be the value add. We need to find additional sources of revenue through initiatives like double sided business models and horizontal integration with other businesses.

So does this mean that the days of the unlimited data bandwidth bundle are numbered—and, if so, how will you deal with the customer fall out?

I still believe that the customer will be willing to pay for services which really make sense for them either emotionally, socially or, professionally. If we cannot provide that then, yes, there is a risk of subscriber fall out. However, it is also important to have an industry-level alignment to discourage these unlimited bundles as they might kill the operator’s profitability, which will also hinder the growth of mobile broadband.

What are your thoughts on a tiered internet service provision?

Again this is a tool that is being used by the operators in the absence of the right business model. I do not think there will be complete elimination of the tier-based pricing strategies but, in the future, there will be a different kind of tier and differentiation, such as service and application based differentiation.

In Finland a broadband connection is a legal right. To what extent do you think the state should be involved in the roll-out of mobile broadband, and what’s your view of the need to reach remote areas?

I think the prime responsibility of the state should be to encourage technology neutrality and ensure a fair and economic distribution of the spectrum. Together with the operators the state should try to reduce the cost per megabit in the mobile network. The other key role for the state should be to facilitate the adoption of this technology in other industries like banking, health, education, business etc.


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