What are the goals of WiMAX Forum?
DECLAN BYRNE: The forums primary goal is to accelerate the adoption, deployment and expansion of WiMAX technologies across the globe while facilitating roaming agreements, sharing best practices within our membership and certifying products. The forum has both the internet service providers and supplier companies as members. We manage the standards associated with the technology. We also conduct marketing and outreach. We try to create opportunity for the users of technology to come together and learn from each other especially the buyers and sellers and thats why we are here in Pakistan.
How do you rate WiMAX penetration in Pakistan?
In Pakistan fifty percent of all the broadband connections in the urban centers are over the wireless technology. That represents the rate of success the technology which I manage. It is unparallel anywhere else in the world. We had a summit in Pakistan which was attended by 130 plus attendees across the region. Operators from Iraq and Bangladesh came to attend the forum. We discussed about best practices, whats gone well and whats gone poorly, the government policies etc. We were delighted to have Chairman PTA as the Chief Guest talking about the broadband policy and future vision. We had a discussion in which all the Pakistan CEOs of local WiMAX services participated.
Are you satisfied with the investment climate in Pakistan?
Pakistans policy apparatus in many ways more forward leaning than even the developed world. Even in 2006 when the spectrum was made available for WiMAX on fair terms which was way ahead as compared to other countries in the region. The support of Universal Service Fund was available for the promotion of broadband. In United States it was only last year that permission was given for using USF for non voice applications. So again Pakistan is ahead of developed world in terms of policy but there is always need for more to do. I think the incumbent has a privileged position, more protective position. There are particular issues which we will be taking up with the regulator. PTCL is using certain spectrum to deliver EV broadband service that is really contravention of rules and I think PTA understands that very well and we will engage with PTA to get that remedy, so that WiMAX operators get level playing field.
How Pakistan can enhance its broadband penetration?
Challenges faced by the WiMAX operators in Pakistan are the same as anywhere like the devise cost, the equipment cost and marketing strategies. There is lot of innovation taking place in Pakistan, growth rate is pretty phenomenal from 2008 to 2011, within three and half years broadband users have gone up from a few hundred to 500,000 on WiMAX broadband. That is pretty good. I give you an example of Bangladesh, where an operator started operations 18 months ago and has 250,000 customers. There are practices elsewhere which can benefit Pakistani operators and consumers. What certainly came out of this conference, the devise cost particularly was a big issue for operators. The Taiwanese manufacturer was also present in the conference and had a fairly good idea what kind of impact high device costs impact on the operators. The conference will help them figure out the how to reduce the cost through local R and D or through USF support or local manufacturing. The best way for them is to work with the operators so that the consumer growth goes from 500,000 not to 2 million but to 10 million. I am delighted to report that one of our board members, New Net Technologies have announced to opening R and D facility in Pakistan for advance broadband WiMAX technology.
Pakistan is moving in the right direction regarding broadband proliferation?
Pakistan is doing well. When I compare the progress made by Pakistan with your large neighbour, the rate of broadband penetration far exceeds what has been achieved in India. It is a credit to the private operators and to the liberality of the public policy and support mechanisms that have been put in place. So Pakistanis should take pride in it that in a short period of time they have achieved the broadband penetration they have. There is always more work to be done. I think that there is a need for a new role for Universal Service Fund to help private operators to deliver broadband in urban centres. It should be a new paradigm and its time to start thinking. We will also be helping bring in best practices and policy regimes which have worked elsewhere.
Has WiMAX grown than its estimated forecast?
Forecasts have radically changed over the last five years. It is certainly true that in 2005-06 it was the industry that was of the view that WiMAX will be massively successful that did not happen. Forecast that I have seen now are pretty credible they conclude that we have ended 2010 with 13.5 million users, 2011 with 25 million users and we are now 30 to 32 million users. It is good steady growth and that is most important that we have sustainable growth. It is delivery, operators generally have healthy margins, and they are growing their networks to better the quality of their service. So we are very happy with where we stand right now and the forecast for 2015 is 50 to 60 million users of this technology.
What are the new areas of growth for WiMAX operators?
Beyond just traditional access there are whole new market segment mainly in the industrial applications like public safety, aviation, oil and gas, smart grid, transportation. It is happening all over the world and we have briefed PTA. The operators community is very interested to try serve that market in Pakistan. I am delighted to report that we can begin a dialogue on public private partnership between private operators and the government and it will give win-win situation of all and help private operators to provide 4G technology to enhance services and increase efficiency.
Should Pakistan opt for LTE?
LTE is a wonderful technology. It is deployed in United States but still at an infancy stage. The Taiwanese manufacturers informed us that the LTE devices are five times as expensive as the current cost of WiMAX devices. There is a lot of research and investment required to make them affordable for the developing world. The Taiwanese manufacturer forecast is that in next 18 months that cost difference will be two and half times. The prices of LTE will come down but with the licensing regime and intellectual property rights issues I dont think it will come in next several years to produce affordable devise, smart phones and other equipment for masses in Pakistan. We welcome the advent of LTE and think that LTE and WiMAX will cooperate as LTE is principally a voice technology while WiMAX is data services solutions. We think that there is room in the market for both the technologies to collaborate and support each other. I dont think there is any room for LTE to be relevant for Pakistan probably for next several years.
Can WiMAX be used for rural areas?
You know that radio technologies lend them naturally to deliver services in the rural areas much better than the wireline, which takes time to market and has a cost to implement. WiMAX operators in Pakistan and private investors, they report to their shareholders and investors. Rural case is one of the most challenging in the world. In most economies the private operators wait to develop a mature business, which is working for them in an urban centre. Or they generally partner with the government to go in the rural areas, and that is already happening in Pakistan. I know that USF has been assisting PTCL and Wateen in going in more rural areas. I would expect that to continue and its pace should be increased.

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