Why Broadband Has a Chance?

In the modern era if mobile was one revolution the other was internet, which, according to some experts changed the fate of world, in doing its business and personal activities.

In our country PTCL has the edge of widest network coverage in the length and breadth of the country. Although after privatisation its telephony services were not up to the mark, however, it was able to somewhat compete the challenge of private sector. PTCL rightly diversified its products and swiftly expanded its portfolio by offering internet DSL and broadband services in addition to basic telephony products.

From PTCL’s recent report, it is obvious that broadband revenues share a major role in their balance sheet, especially with 48 % growth during the last quarter of October-December 2008, breaking all its previous growth rates. According to PTCL spokesperson within one and a half years of its broadband launch, PTCL has acquired over 100,000 broadband customers in over 100 cities and towns across Pakistan.

With largest network PTCL has the edge that it has not to reach its customers like other companies do, meaning that if someone requires broadband, he/she will be PTCL customer by default to get a wired line.

It is worth mentioning that before PTCL’s entry into the broadband market in 2007, was primarily only available in 3 major cities of the country. Since its broadband launch in May 2007, PTCL made the broadband technology affordable by decreasing the barriers to entry, by geographically bringing the service within the reach of a common user across Pakistan and by continuous improvement in the customer service provisioning and complain management for the service.

Advertisement

Similarly, private sector helped the market in bringing awareness for a common user with the benefits of broadband. With increased competition broadband became an affordable choice for home users, which was earlier a symbol or corporate sector only.

Despite all these achievements, we are still to run a long race to reach a reliable, affordable and reachable network infrastructure and system.

Now I would like to make a comparison of the current internet companies. This year our nation’s phone and cable companies have been trumpeting the speed of their internet connections with ads that pitch “blazing speeds” at up to 10 times faster than dial-up”, and  that will “change the way you live”. Some are now offering free internet with hidden charges. But as the march of the digital subscriber lines and cable and wireless deployment continues, consumers have been repeatedly disappointed.

Major players and their share

There are mainly three types of delivery in play in Pakistan. Wired DSL services, with providers such as CyberNet, MultiNet, and LinkDotNet (Orascom), MaxCom, MicroNet and Pakistan Telecommunications Company (PTCL) are all hampered by infrastructure limitation. These include low phone line penetration (4.5 million total) and the dismal  performance  of copper wired  plants (at best a maximum of 10% to 15% of the total copper can  be used for fixed broadband service , as only 40% of PTCL exchanges are data enabled. Hence existing copper can support hardly 0.5million broadband users over a period of three to five years) as well as high monthly costs that are beyond the reach of general public.

Price factor

Price is a major factor. Price has gone down to 500 rupees for a 256KB connection. The second platform is the wired cable (TV) services such as World cable, which are limited to the big cities and that too mainly in upmarket areas. The  predominant mohallah  cable TV network do not offer sufficient quality and reliability to support broadband services , although some provide  Ethernet – based internet. The third platform is the wireless access networks, like WiMax, WiFi –, Edge and EvDo, with service providers such as Wateen Telecom. These are still in their nascent stage in Pakistan and there are currently no affordable offerings in the market.

Penetration

The typical broadband subscription is usually with businesses and professionals (41%) and high income households (56%) in mostly urban areas. Beyond that, small, highly specialised markets like the government (2%) or educational institutions (1%) also exist. The under 25and over 55 age brackets from the biggest users group (high leisure time group). There are approximately five million PCs in Pakistan, with over three percent penetration.

Advertising war for internet customers

This is the first year that the industry has gone in for meaningful advertising, due to which the broadband market has had an exponential growth with a rate surpassing 300% (from July 2007 to data). PTCL broadband and linkDotNet specially  spent copious amounts of money  on traditional media  (exact figures could not be determined ), broadcasting their products that “ Speed  Up The World” or “Change The Way You Live” Wateen’s WiMax also had a high impact communication strategy.

From their advertising slogan, “The Future is Green, The Future is Wateen” to the public  relations strategy , Wateen  tried to build – in a localised feel by supporting events  that included HR management  forums, education expos, B2B trade shows, music  festivals , sports lifestyles events and fashion shows. Worldcall too employed a multifaceted marketing strategy, bringing in their technological character of “Flash” in ATL activities to emphasise high speed internet connectivity. Every broadband provider is offering multiple service packages of barying prices and speeds to cater to multiple market segments. Some providers such as Worldcall  and Wateen  have been offered  triple  play approaches – internet,  telephony and television ( Wateen is now moving towards Quad Play which might include on Demand services or entertainment and communication service on the cell phone ) to add value.

However, even allowing for limitations due to infrastructure, education and socio- economic conditions, the industry still has not performed adequately. There are still only an estimated  200,000 broadband users in Pakistan , of which PTCL trumpets its 100,000 users, whilst  users  from  providers such as Wateen Wimax  stand at about  18,000 and cable operators such as WorldCall which accounted for a 90% growth rate between  2006 and 2007 still only have between 40,000 and 50,000 users.  These users are growing @ 10,000 every month.

Challenges Ahead

The problem is two – pronged. One is over – promising and under-delivering, especially with regard to the reliability of the connection and customer service (two very important aspects of the customer experience and which none of the companies have made part of their communication).

The second problem is that the advertisement for these products has focused primarily on two aspects only: speed and price. Yet, broadband service providers need to wake up to the fact that it is not just about speed and price.

Although PTCL has launched a BTL campaign for its broadband connection however, still there are problems of connection even in the capital city of Islamabad. The PTCL exchanges and network has pair problem and so many people are their waiting for cheaper connection as Vfone is not so reliable like landline connection.

I believe that after the Mobile sector reaching its saturation level; it is the best time for broadband to reach form Gilgat to Gwader.  The time is very short and we have to deliver before it’s too late. As when we have a 3G era, their may not be a chance for such connections and services.