Telenor Pakistan has remained rather quiet about its 4G services since it acquired additional 4G spectrum in August 2016. Neither their branding nor their marketing campaigns have been as aggressive as what we saw with the likes of Zong and the hype has definitely been below expectations.
This was probably due to some internal restructuring that Telenor Pakistan was undergoing and the initial roll-out push (read investment) that company needed before doing full-scale campaign on its 4G services.
Telenor Pakistan says that it did rigorous planning for its 4G network and took time before investing and rolling out its network during Q1 2017.
- 4G users: Around 300,000 till March end
- 4G Enabled Sites: More than 2,000
- 4G Covered Cities: 93
“We have converted more than 2,000 cell sites to 4G network during past three months with more to come in coming quarter”, said Omer Bin Tariq, Director Segments & Products, Telenor Pakistan while speaking with ProPakistani.
He said that total count of cities with Telenor’s 4G coverage currently stands over 93 and the number is going grow rapidly in next few months.
“Telenor Pakistan is already seeing tremendous response — in terms of uptake, service consumption, usage patterns and retention — from consumers, which is actually beyond what we were expecting”, he said while adding that the real challenge is to retain the customers where Telenor Pakistan is doing wonderfully well.
Without revealing the plans, Telenor said that it will continue to invest in 4G.
4G Handset Compatibility Issues
With enormous opportunities in data segment, Telenor is somewhat caught up due to limited 4G handset availability in 850 MHz band.
850MHz is comparatively a new band in the region for 4G network. Other than Telenor Pakistan, only Reliance of India is deploying 4G network in 850MHz band.
With its wider coverage opportunities per cell site — which is usually great for rural areas — operators like Telenor face the challenge of too few compatible handsets that operate in this band.
Not to mention — with lower number of overall 4G compatible handsets in market — the 4G ecosystem is already under-developed in markets like Pakistan, 850MHz band further limits Telenor’s possibility of stretching 4G across the masses.
A market survey revealed that less than half of 4G handsets available in Pakistan operate with 850MHz band, meaning that Telenor’s potential is halved already.
“But this will not remain the same, as more operators are using 850MHz band for 4G in the region, the phone makers have started shipping 850MHz compatible 4G smartphones”, said Omer Bin Tariq.
While referring to shipments during past three months, Omar said that almost all 4G compatible smartphones now support 850MHz, “Real challenge [for Telenor and all other operators] is that overall 4G ecosystem in Pakistan is not very developed, for instance 4G compatible handsets in Pakistan — among all smartphones — is not more than 6-7 percent”, revealed Omar.
“So [with a balanced strategy] along side working with phone makers, we are launching Telenor branded handsets and then wingles and dongles to make sure that phone compatibility is not an issue”, he told us.
Way Forward: 4G Dongles and Wingles
Telenor is working on a way-around to deal with the situation, and that is to stretch the service consumption through wingles and dongles.
Market experts say that wingles and dongles are actually going to benefit operators in many ways. First they will notably reduce the entry cost for consumers as they won’t have to invest heavy on compatible smartphones to use 4G services.
Secondly, as the fixed network is either poor or non-existent in Pakistan, operators can tap home-users with 4G wingles to become their primary internet users for general purposes.
Experts said that home users with 4G wingles will mean lower churn with higher ARPU, something that telecom operators dream about.
But you have to have a tremendous network for this to work, which means that telecom operators must invest heavily on network to become the ultimate internet providers without any bottlenecks.
Unlike smartphone users, 4G on wingle has to be consistent for which the network has to be ultra responsive.
With rich coverage in rural areas and million of users looking to use internet for the first time, Telenor is placed wonderfully well to reap the potential that 4G offers in Pakistan. But with Zong in the play, Telenor will have to invest heavily to become the first choice operator for masses in the country.