Changing the landscape

For a company that is just a year-and-a-half old, Iran’s newest broadband player has certainly made its presence felt in its local market. Since the service was launched in August 2010, MobinNET has picked up 130,000 subscribers. The attraction of the company for its customers is that in a country where fixed line connectivity is relatively scarce and expensive, MobinNET offers the flexibility of wireless WiMAX connectivity to homes and mobile users, at an attractive price.

As such, MobinNET expects to increase its customer’s base to 160,000 customers by the end of March 2012, as its CTO, Nima Pournejatian tells It offers a number of packages for both consumers and businesses, while corporate customers can access high-level features such as dedicated point-to-point bandwidth and Enterprise Layer-3.

As a WiMAX player it is purely a data play at the moment, but a VoIP service will also be introduced in the near future. MobinNet offers speeds ranging from 128kbps to 2Mbps packages with and without download restrictions. The speeds might not be outstanding compared to the world’s fastest networks but in terms of wireless connectivity but it’s still welcome when there’s not a huge amount of choice. As WiMAX Pournejatian explains, there are no 3G operators in Iran, so WiMAX is a great solution for providing mobile broadband to eager customers. “If you look at the Iranian telecom market and infrastructure you’ll understand that there’s a lack of cable infrastructure. In European countries there are cable companies that are providing service but we don’t have that here.”

The fast expansion of fibre-optic connectivity for landline telephony is ironically boosting the attraction of WiMAX, as fibre optic connections are too expensive for consumers as a data connection, and there is no ADSL network to provide an affordable alternative.

“The ADSL implementation in Iran is restricted, because there is no copper network. There is a limitation in that [fibre optics] cannot provide ADSL – so it’s an advantage for WiMAX. You can install a modem and CPE for user and they will use the service. It’s a unique opportunity in the Middle East because of the geographical area and the population [distribution] that we have, and an advantage over the cable and copper based technologies.”

Consumers inevitably face restrictions on the certain types of traffic – P2P in particular. “Most traffic is HTTP and P2P. We have a limited amount of P2P traffic as if we open it, it will fully utilise our bandwidth. Bandwidth in Iran is very expensive compared to other countries so we need to limit this.”

Pournejatian explains that its day-to-day challenge is keeping its 450 base station strong multi-vendor network running smoothly.  “We’re the first WiMAX operator to have launched a multi-vendor integration operation. Because WiMAX technology is not as mature as 3G, or 2G, so multi vendor is a real challenge for us. As far as we know, we’re the only WiMAX operator that has three vendors on the active layer.”

The reason for this is that MobinNet wants to keep its suppliers on their toes. “We don’t want to be a single vendor and we want to keep the competition going and not depend on one vendor. Huawei is providing core, plus access and transmission network, and Samsung and ZTE are providing access plus related transmission equipment – base stations and microwave related transmissions.”

The major progress coming to MobinNet is the adding of VoIP services, which will help lower the cost of international calls for customers. “In our license we have the capability and permission to offer voice services, so we are going to launch [them] in the next couple of weeks so we can offer unmetered international calls.

As with all data enabled offerings MobinNET offers a feature enabling them to connect multiple devices via short range wifi.  Other innovations in the market are the introduction of WiMAX for IPTV services, and Iranian consumers are now able to buy Samsung smart televisions with MobinNet WiMAX CPEs attached for access to Video on Demand services.

“Right now if you look at our service it is mostly HTTP browsing and P2P. But in near future, I predict this would be more video traffic as well. Using interactive right now is a challenge and a subject to investigate. I predict that VoD will dominate. Right now we have bundled our TVs with one of the Smart TVs in the market and they are using our service as their internet.”

While MobinNet’s WiMAX service has got off to a successful start, it’s clear that the momentum worldwide is behind LTE mobile technology. Clearly this is a strategic business decision rather than a purely business one, and Pournejatian’s comments, “I don’t know if we’ll have a LTE bid or not but if there is, we will bid. We are investigating right now, but we have not decided. We look at some WiMAX operators right now that are moving to TD-LTE and it could be done for us as well. The major concern is that there will not be enough terminals in the market that will work on TD-LTE and at 3.5GHz – so that’s where we need to focus. Plus, we are analysing the FDD version of LTE as well. There will be a need for more investment in new spectrum I think.”

It is to help make this type of decision that is actually drawing MobinNET to attend events such as the Broadband MEA conference. “We are looking to see what the other broadband operators do and what the LTE and WiMAX operators do. We would like to see people at C-level and to talk with them to see their strategies, what they are looking for in all parts of the business – the network side, the IT side,  the marketing as well. We think [about] networking with others and also to listen and watch the presentation from operators and vendors to decide what technologies to use. We need to understand what type of marketing campaigns can be used – I think it will help us lots.”

The timeframe for this transition is likely to be the second half of the year, and if it happens there will effectively be two networks running at the same time but Pournejatian doesn’t think this will be a problem. “As far as the air interface is concerned WiMAX is very similar to LTE. So there are many common points. Both of them use as IP core and the transmission network is common to both technologies.  The only difference is the access layer. Even at the access layer both of them use OFDMA.”

Nima Pournejatian is the chief technology officer of Iran’s MobinNET Telecom and is speaking on day one of the Broadband MEA conference, due to be held  on the 27th March 2012, at the Westin Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina, Dubai, UAE. Register your interest here.

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