The tech future lies in WiMAX
(Flare (Pakistan) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Question: What is WiMAX and why are you in Pakistan Declan Byrne: WiMAX is a fixed and mobile broadband Internet technology, essentially a metro area wireless broadband, capable of delivering high-speed connections and handling heavy loads. It is a 4G technology ideal for users who require high speed broadband in areas with no preexisting fixed-line connections or those who like to take their connections on the move.
I am here to represent the international body governing global standards in the WiMAX industry. We have over 250 operators worldwide in over 180 countries, serving around 30 million users in developing and developed markets.
Pakistan is an extremely significant market in fact it was the first country globally to roll out a WiMAX network on a nationwide basis. In addition to bringing the Internet to potentially millions of users, WiMAX is relevant here because of its applications within the aviation, utilities, and oil and gas sectors. Pakistani consumers are becoming increasingly familiar with smartphones and are already well aware of 2G technology. Awareness about 3G is also on the rise, because of a recent rollout in India and it will be launching here in the near future from what I hear. Currently the landscape is such that operators are able to deliver mobile voice and text very, very well which means users are well versed in SMS, as well as light Internet and emails on their mobile devices. WiMAX offers the best solution for bridging the existing gap, as I believe 3G will take some time to roll out. The ecosystem already exists. It's only a matter of time before the operators realize this and convergence in the industry starts taking place.
Q: Can you explain a bit more about WiMAX applications for utilities Byrne: WiMAX has been around for a long time but it’s still relatively young in terms of take up. It has really only been massively deployed in the past three years internationally Wateen Telecom kicked off its WiMAX network in Pakistan quite aggressively in 2007. In the past 18 months an increasing number of industrial sectors have started taking interest in WiMAX. There has been particular interest from the utilities sector and this is where I see real potential especially for Pakistan because of the energy crisis. What we are seeing now across the globe is that utility operators, large and small, are putting up what they call “smart grids.” These are really communications infrastructures embedded within the grid which create a telecom network, allowing the operators to manage the grids efficiently, allocating resources on a “needs basis” in real time. In Asia, we are expecting one project that will see tens of millions of WiMAX semiconductors embedded in electricity meters connecting homes and businesses across the country, acting like smartphones and constantly feeding back data to the grid. I am looking forward to interact with utility operators in Pakistan and having similar discussions on how WiMAX and WiMAX operators can help them.
Q: Have you discussed the potential use of this technology for Pakistan with the government Byrne: I am definitely planning to bring the success story of WiMAX with respect to utilities to the Pakistani authorities. Of course, at this stage, my role is more educational. I intend on inviting the relevant Pakistanis whether in government or utilities or other businesses to participate in our events on aviation and other sectors so they can see for themselves how this technology can benefit. Globally, the aviation community has selected WiMAX as its standard technology for surface communications at every airport of the world. This decision was taken about 24 months ago and within the next year, five airports in the U.S. and five in Europe will begin installing WiMAX technology to manage everything from baggage handling to air traffic control operations. This is a 10-year process and I’m confident that eventually Pakistani airports will implement WiMAX as well.
Q: Do you think the security situation in Pakistan is suitable for foreign investment Byrne: I have always felt extremely comfortable here. I do understand from the companies that I represent that the security situation has had a negative impact on the macro situation in terms of foreign direct investment (FDI), and economic growth. This of course affects the industry I represent where new telecom technology providers are hungry for investment.
Also, I think that with purse strings tightening, Pakistani consumers are finding it increasingly difficult to buy laptops, computers or smartphones. And that, of course, clearly impacts all Internet service providers, whose businesses depend on the ability of average Pakistanis to buy Internet-ready devices.
Q: How do you see WiMAX networks expanding to Pakistan’s rural areas Byrne: The business argument for a private telecom company to provide Internet services in remote, rural areas calls for an aggressive government mindset, including adopting a digital “do or die” strategy in collaboration with the private sector. There are many models that can be replicated. I was recently in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia which also has a large rural population. They’re bringing broadband Internet to schools and educational institutions, as well as clinics and hospitals as a matter of government policy.
The government released a tender to connect 20,000 primary and secondary schools to the Internet for the first time a tender all the telecoms operators bid for and a WiMAX operator won. A similar approach is needed in Pakistan. It is only through government policies that such technologies can achieve scale and hit the masses. This is one of the key areas I hope to address during my interactions with Pakistani officials.
Q: How about challenges like lack of energy, political will or investment Also, most of the Internet is in English, not spoken or read by the vast majority of Pakistanis.
Byrne: No doubt these challenges exist but they are not insurmountable. I frequently talk to WiMAX operators in India and Bangladesh, and they face similar challenges. As I said, you just need the backing from the government, and capital and focus from the WiMAX operators. As far as the language barrier is concerned, I think once broadband Internet becomes more ubiquitous, and connects more residential and business users in Pakistan, an increasing amount of Urdu content will become available. The good news is that Internet access is growing fast in Pakistan.
Q: Critics say WiMAX is getting outdated. Is this true Byrne: That is flat out not true. WiMAX was adopted by the International Communication Union as one of two technologies that is a true 4G technology, which has the ability to deliver a multimedia experience (video, voice, Internet and mobility) to consumers. And remember, in Pakistan you only have 2G. Now, you have the government considering 3G in the future; however, WiMAX is already deployed here and can bridge this gap. There has been a lot of hype and talk lately about 4G cellular mobile voice technology, known as Long Term Evolution (LTE).
There was an auction in India two years ago for 4G wireless technology and some WiMAX was deployed there. However, the largest Indian operator decided at the time to wait for LTE technology, expecting it would launch by 2011. Now they’ve pushed that back to 2014. Meanwhile WiMAX is already taking hold. Let me add here that I love LTE I think it’s a great technology and I can’t wait to actually see it.
Q: There are currently four major WiMAX operators in Pakistan. What does the future hold Byrne: The way I see it, there are three proper WiMAX operators in Pakistan: Wateen, WiTribe and Qubee you also have Mobilink Infinity, but they’re mostly limited to Karachi. It’s important to remember that all three major WiMAX operators require capital from their foreign principals to grow and sustain their operations. And whenever there are security concerns which impact the macroeconomic picture, FDI becomes all the more important. Add to this the still-not-resolved global financial crises of 2008-09. So if you’re an operator that established operations in 2007-08 right at the onset of this crisis, then no doubt you’ll face challenges. Especially since this is a capital intensive business that needs funding to really succeed and grow.
Such challenges have nothing to do with the technology or other operations. That said, I am confident they will resolve eventually. Bear in mind investors are not technologists they read the papers and don’t necessarily know where to differentiate hype from reality. In this regard, a lot of what I do involves meeting with investors across the globe and educating them. And whenever I meet them, I push telecoms technologies as the areas in which to invest, showing them successful WiMAX case studies that demonstrate that these businesses work and can and should be built.
WiMAX is not a closed technology it is an Internet protocol broadband technology. This year, we will be taking the decision to open up the technology so that operators can serve other access technologies as well.
This means access to 3G and 4G on the mobile and voice sides, really opening up those big ecosystems. Here in Pakistan we will be taking a decision on the WiMAX Forum level to allow 3G and 4G technologies to be supported on their networks. What this basically means for Wateen, WiTribe, Qubee etc. is that their WiMAX networks will be accessible via other 3G/4G devices as well, such as the iPhone. This will open up the ecosystem which is not very developed yet, but which we expect to be very large in the next 3-5 years.It will also be a significant step in allowing these operators to raise funding.