By Mustafa Z Paras and Ata ul Haq

Naveed Saeed, Senior Executive Vice President (Commercial) Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited, has a rich profile spanning over 20 years in the telecom sector. He has worked at senior management positions in telecom companies in Asia, Africa and Middle East. As Chief Commercial Officer, he is the spearhead of PTCLs revenue streams and has brought many changes in the organisation

Is there still potential for fixed line growth?

Naveed Saeed: Yes, sure there is. We have experimented with the fibre to the home (FTTH). In the next phase, our plan is to lay thousands of lines and shortly this will be made available to customers in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. This will allow customers to experience speeds up to 100 Mbps. It will improve development of applications and services like high definition television (HDTV) live streaming of HD content many folds.

The other component of fixed line, which we have today, is the copper network, and we have an upward trend in DSL services installation. Every day we are installing new DSLs on totally new lines with new landline numbers. We are now at a level where fixed line losses are not that significant due to gains on landline. No doubt, we have lost basic voice customers but we have also gained more data usage customers and that is fuelling our fixed line growth.

PTCLs fixed line network is no longer dependent on the voice segment alone. We have ventured out in value added services like data connectivity that provides information and entertainment on the same line. The fixed line now provides access to video, video telephone and security surveillance. The data connectivity has become more significant than the simple voice connectivity of the past. So, down the road voice will become a value added service and data will become the primary service and the voice will run on the data platform, like VOIP, Skype and other services. Voice will eventually become packet data service over a data network.

Where do we stand as compared to other countries of the region?

In the fixed line segment, our penetration is far greater as compared to India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Our losses in the fixed line segment are less than those experienced by other South Asian countries. Overall our position is much better in the fixed line category. However, it is important to keep introducing new features for fixed line customers. If you rely on voice services only, then contraction is certain.  But, if you provide data and other value added services then it makes you more sustainable.  It is a worldwide phenomenon.  PTCLs Smart TV is a prime example which uses PTCLs existing fixed line network.

Worlds leading telecom operators, like France Telecom, British Telecom, Dutch Telecom and even China Telecom have worked on the same lines to sustain themselves.  Our optic fiber network provides corporate solutions, wholesale solutions and consumer solutions that are inclusive of voice and data. Our wireless and wire-line data connectivity for residential customers is gaining momentum. We have been able to give up to 100 Mbps of bandwidth on FTTH. We were the first in the world to launch VDSL technology on copper network.  We were recently declared the Best South Asian Telecom Operator 2011 by SAMENA Telecommunications Council (South Asia, Middle East, and North Africa)

How do you plan to retain your customers?

We are using the High speed data technology for the fixed line. It is basically DSL technology that runs over the copper network. We have also introduced the VDSL on copper which is a last mile solution. This technology uses two copper pairs for uplink and downlink and extends to customer premises. We also have FTTH, which takes fibre straight from exchange to customers premises. On DSL the distance from exchange determines the quality of service. Up to one kilometer you have speeds of 50 Mbps while after 2 kilometer the speed reduces to half. PTCL is investing heavily on improving the network by laying backhaul fibre. After backhaul, only the last loop i.e the end point at the customer premises will remain on the copper.

We have an extensive copper network and by strengthening and rehabilitating copper with fiber, we can give even higher speeds on our existing copper network.

The time is not far when cable operators will be offering HDTV and Blue-Ray quality movies to customers on FTTH connections. We are also deploying new networks in areas where the distance is greater. The project will be completed this year. After that 90 per cent of our customers will be getting speeds between 20 to 50 Mbps on the copper network. On the FTTH which is at an experimental stage now, the customers will get guaranteed 100 Mbps regardless of distance from the exchange.

It is alleged that PTCL is providing 3G broadband services without license? Is this correct?

Well, there is a licensing authority that has granted us the license for services which we are offering in the country. We are in full compliance with the licensing and the regulatory regime. PTCLs wireless broadband service is fully licensed and governed. We have the license for wireless voice service through V phone.

Pakistan has been slow in launching the 3G services. Our EVDO service is the first commercial launch of the CDMA technology in the world. PTCL has a business case as it invested huge amounts to bring the most modern technology to Pakistan. But it is important to realize that the biggest beneficiaries were the people of the Pakistan who have the benefit of using the most modern technology in the world. As we delayed the 3G service the customers were left behind. Our EVDO service fills this gap by providing fast browsing and internet access. We have also launched PTCL other innovative products like EVO Tab and 3G EVO Nitro Cloud.

Why have you failed to change the lineman culture?

As long as you have wire lines you will always have a lineman to come and fix your issues. We are constantly training our linemen and improving their skills. Our linemen are now called customer services representatives (CSR).  DSL CSRs are diploma holders and properly qualified for the job. We have close to one million subscribers on the DSL service as compared to 3 million PSTN subscribers. In a years time, DSL will be equal to PSTN and that would mean that the data connectivity is 100 per cent available to the base. This requires qualified manpower to address the complaints of the customers.

In the coming future you will see a massive shift in the service delivery from a lineman to CSR. We are still in an evolutionary process as you know PTCL is a huge organization with over 30,000 employees and that realization of the technology shift is still taking place. But our regulator has set very stringent quality benchmarks for us to achieve. In case of voice, we are near the bench mark level, as we have deployed the most modern call management system that enables us to know the average turnaround time for fixing a problem.

Are your customers satisfied?

There has been a tremendous growth in the telecom sector with tremendous investment during the last decade. There are a number of players in the market providing different services. The customer satisfaction is not a simple thing anymore. It depends upon a number of things like the technology and the value added services. All this requires huge investments.

If you dont keep a continuous momentum by investing in new technologies and value added services then the customer satisfaction continues to fade. PTCL has been investing in the sector which is high capex business, requiring multi-million dollars investments. It is imperative to keep in mind the literacy ratio, the purchasing power of the people while investing in newer technologies and services. DSL growth penetration was greater last year than the mobile phone subscriptions. On the average a DSL connection is used by 6 to 7 persons and that takes your broadband penetration to over 30 million. It is also substantiated as Facebook has close to 10 million Pakistan-specific accounts. It is also interesting to note that many economists have started reviewing economies on the basis of bandwidth usage, number of accounts, download speeds and number of Facebook and Twitter accounts. Investors are also looking at these statistics before deciding about investments. We are focused on enhancing the telecom infrastructure and, I think, we are progressing in the right direction.

What major difference did you see in the last decade?

The major difference has been connectivity speeds. People are now watching movies and videos on the internet and even making video phone calls through Skype. It was a herculean task to download 700 Mb on a 512 K connection. Now, you have a Virtual University that gives lectures, receives homework and conducts exams electronically. Life has totally changed. The platforms are there for starting new e-ventures which were not that common five years back. There were no applications stores and devices had negligible storage capacity. I-Pad was able to make an entry as platform, application stores and devices were there otherwise it would have never clicked.

What emerging trends do you see for future?

There has been saturation in the voice market. We have already hit 110 million mark in the voice subscriptions. It means that 60 per cent of the population has access to the voice service. If you exclude the number of children in the total populations then it is close to 100 per cent population having voice coverage. The voice market is now fully penetrated and the future growth depends on the data segment. The data market will have a healthy growth in the future as there are numerous opportunities for starting new e-related businesses like e-education, e-health, e-finance, e-insurance, e-stores etc. We see that there is a tremendous potential in the 20 to 30 years age group. This is the largest segment of the youth where we see the biggest quest for education, knowledge and career growth. For them the voice is secondary as already SMS is their primary means of communication. So we see a massive shift occurring on the data front.

Are you satisfied with the government policies?

Government has made a wise decision to formulate a broadband policy. There is a realization in the government as well as in the industry that in order to run their businesses more effectively and efficiently they need a platform and connectivity in place for e-government, and e-businesses. We require more commitment from the government to facilitate e-infrastructure and other e-programs in the country. The market growth will appear no doubt even though it might get affected if e-education and e-health and other e-initiatives fail to take off. However, I also see that entrepreneurs will enter soon in the e-businesses which offer numerous investment and growth opportunities. They will be taking advantage of what is not considered and offered at present.

What about your satisfaction with the regulatory issues?

Overall we all, but on the fixed line service the regulator, has laid out most stringent parameters including services provisioning call, identification connectivity and service delivery. They (regulator) seem to be out of sync with the global and neighboring countries standards set by their regulatory bodies. In my opinion they should have looked at the KPIs of the neighboring countries before setting out benchmarks for us. If the KPIs are not realistic then they will be hard to achieve.

It is generally said that PTCL has not properly invested after its privatization? Is that true?

No, this is an allegation which is totally baseless. PTCL has invested over 1billion dollars in the data connectivity segment during the last five years. And we have invested millions of dollars in other high tech services. Other than PTCL no other telecom investor has invested amounts that we have spent to modernize and upgrade our services and infrastructure. We have not sought any tax concessions like other major investors. We have been the largest contributor to USF. We got the major chunk of projects for infrastructure development in the backward areas in which the government also contributes but the major share of the investment is made by the telco. PTCL is a big company that is committed to Pakistans development. We have huge cash flows and we are investing in many projects in Pakistan. We have a target to invest 1 billion dollars in telecom infrastructure development in the near future.

Any other issues you are facing these days?

We were declared a significant market player (SMP) a decade back by the telecom regulator. This benefited the mobile companies as they were allowed a higher share in the inter-connect charges. Now they have over 110 million subscribers while we have only 3 million fixed line subscribers. This is a big issue for us as and we are losing out money. We want the regulator to resettle this issue.

Your views on Technology Times?

It is a very interesting publication that has very good articles on technology issues. But I will stress that it should have more telecom content.

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