The Sri Lanka Broadband Forum 2017: Part 01


Held at the Galle Face Hotel on the 12th of September 2017, the 2nd Iteration of the Sri Lanka Broadband Forum was co-organized by Huawei Technologies together with the Ministry of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure and the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka. If you cannot recall what the Sri Lanka Broadband Forum is, you can take a look here.

The event kicked off in true Sri Lankan style with the traditional lighting of the oil lamp. On stage was Wasantha Deshapriya, Secretary to the Ministry of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure to deliver the welcome and opening speech. He welcomed everyone and thanked all those attending for their participation. By the year 2025, most, if not all our tasks will rely on broadband, Mr. Deshapriya said.

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Wasantha Deshapriya – Ministry of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure delivering the Welcome Address

How has communication changed our lives?

Michael Macdonald, Group CTO and Executive Consultant of SEA Region, Huawei was on stage first to speak about how communication changes peoples’ lives. Did you know that for 60 seconds, there are 1,8 million snaps created, 900,000 Facebook logins, 4.1 million videos viewed on YouTube, 156 million emails sent, and 3.5 million search queries? We certainly didn’t. Mind you, all of this is on mobile, not even on desktop. Mind boggling, isn’t it?

With regards to the younger generation, they are the main contributor to data and broadband usage, Michael explained. They are always connected, they are socially influenced, digitally oriented, quick adopters, and trend followers. They need information at their fingertips and they will perform actions just because their friends are doing it. We need to have a system that agile enough to jump from one platform to the next in order to give users what they want.

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Michael Macdonald, Group CTO and Executive Consultant of SEA Region, Huawei addressing the Audience

He went on to explain how in 2018, Myanmar’s smartphone penetration will exceed china. The average monthly data usage for Cambodia is higher than China with the former using around 3.5GB per person whereas the latter is around vs 1GB. He also spoke about how the Telco market is saturated and that telcos would have to develop new methods to capture customers. An example would be pre-paid connections. In Myanmar, for example operators make use of video to attract the youth.

They do this by bundling video + traffic bundling options for daily, weekly, or monthly options, sort of like a special video package or as a pay-per-view. If you take China, for example, apart from traditional data services, telcos also bundle services such as OTT to encourage people to use data to make them high data users, thus moving them to become high value users. Michael emphasized that User generated content is the key as it keeps people coming back for more.
Another point was to setup some of the government processes and services online, thus speeding up these processes, eliminating the need for standing in queues.

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Michael Macdonald, further explaining his presentation

Despite video being a high bandwidth usage platform, it is not the most vital service. It does, however, drive data usage up, which in turn helps Telcos price it accordingly. The younger generation, especially students are data hungry, and as such they are more willing to spend more on data bundles and digital transactions as compared to traditional methods.

They need to see continuous value in what they’re using by having updated content refreshed all the time.
Campuses in China for example, focus on offering special prices for broadband mobile users. Rural segments are important to unleash digital needs. If you’re in a rural area, there’s a higher chance that people will spend more on internet access because they have nothing to do.

What are the Elements of Effective Broadband Policy?

On stage, we had Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, Chairman of LIRNEasia. Prof. Rohan opened up his presentation by comparing some stats between Sri Lanka and neighboring countries. Did you know that for 2016, Sri Lanka has 118.5 mobile subscriptions per 100 users, whereas Pakistan has 71.4 subscriptions per 100 users?

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Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, Chairman of LIRNEasia addressing the Audience

What can we learn from Government Broadband initiatives in the region?. When we look at the internet, things have changed a lot. He spoke about the internet ecosystem. For example, India has spent around $16 Billion on getting Fiber (FTTH) connections from Block to Gram Panchayat level. They’ve also been investing significantly in e-Government and e-Education. Malaysia on the other hand, is far more developed, with FTTH in industrial (densely populated) areas. Proj. Rohan also emphasized that the Government of Sri Lanka had collected $351 Million by the end of 2015 but thus far, it’s just in the Treasury and not being utilized. Prof. Rohan had obtained these details via an RTI request to the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka.

We need to take a lesson from Malaysia and handle the entire ecosystem, Prof. Rohan said. This includes infrastructure, attractive content/applications, skilled users and affordable & userfriendly devices. He pointed out that special work should go on disabled and the elderly. He also emphasized that the conditions for investment should be pursued, rather than subsidies. We have one solid set of rules when it come to taxation and entry/exit conditions. By taxing something (mobile data) for example, you effectively reduce the quantity that is consumed.

Broadband ForumWith regard to wireless broadband, a key element is spectrum. If you’ve been following the news, there’s been a lot of chatter regarding the 700 MHz spectrum. Spectrum refarming is critical, Prof. Rohan said.. The best way to improve spectrum regulation is to set out principles and a schedule for refarming actions. If the Government needs revenue, it must be decided whether it’s now or over time. The best way to do this is through auctions but it should be done in the means of a solid roadmap. We need to reform the law and restore credibility of the regulatory forces. With that, Prof. Rohan’s presentation came to an end.

We learned about the National Broadband Forum and 2020 vision

This was presented by Harin Fernando, the Minister of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure. According to research done, 60% of Sri Lanka’s population is still offline. Despite this, Sri Lanka’s mobile penetration has increased from 96% to 122% over the past 5 years with the market penetration rising from 8% to 21%. He spoke about the policies and steps taken to facilitate ICT development with regard to broadband and Internet usage.

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Harin Fernando, the Minister of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure addressing the audience

From the initial forum last year, fixed broadband has increased but there’s still work to be done. The second forum is to reduce cost and enhance service of broadband. For example, the CEB (Ceylon Electricity Board) is also laying down fiber compliant power lines to improve infrastructure. In conclusion, the minister left us with these words; “Sharing is the key here”.

We learned about China’s contribution towards Digital Sri Lanka

Presented by His Excellency Yi Xianliang, the Chinese Ambassador, he started by sharing that 2 years ago he went to the Uva province and met the Chief Minister of the province. He spoke with the minister on how to promote cooperation between Sri Lanka and China. A few of these priorities were technology, innovation, and connectivity. Fortunately, that minister was promoted to the Minister of Telecommunication. If you didn’t already guess, that Minister was Harin Fernando.

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His Excellency Yi Xianliang, the Chinese Ambassador addressing the audience

The Ambassador added that Chinese aid has helped build ports, airports, and railways in the future. But today, he shares that telecommunications is also an area China and Sri Lanka can cooperate for it is one of the most important infrastructure pieces today. He went onto share that China is working with Sri Lanka to set up industrialization systems, for which telecommunication is vital.

Broadband ForumLast year, Ambassador Yi accompanied the Prime Minister to Huawei Headquarters to sign an MoU to promote telecommunications in Sri Lanka. Ambassador Yi said that telecommunications industry helps promote the development of Sri Lanka. Last week, the ambassador shared that he went to a remote village and was surprised to find a signal. The telecommunication economy, a digital economy should be the priority of any country he says. A telecommunication hub is vital to create a financial and logistical hub that has been envisioned by the government he shares. He also noted that China could possibly be making a donation of 2 Billion Yuan to Sri Lanka that will be spread across sectors.

Sri Lanka’s Broadband Survey Report was put into perspective

Following a short refreshing tea break, we had Therica Miyanadeniya, Director of Emerging Verticals and Qualitative Research, Nielsen, Sri Lanka speaking to us on a survey report on Sri Lanka Broadband. She started off her presentation stating that they contacted 4 major groups:

  • General Public
  • Business Enterprises
  • Educational Institutes
  • Health sectors

With regard to the general public

They spoke to 1,000 individuals from across the country, who were randomly selected. Of the 1,000, 52% were female and 48% were male. A majority of the public (75%) to be exact were from the urban areas whereas 25% was from the rural area. In terms of data usage, 86% went through mobile, 17% through 4G/LTE, 7% through dongles, 7% via ADSL connections and 1% via FTTH connections. In terms of devices, internet was accessed 95% via smartphone, and 23% by laptop.

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Therica Miyanadeniya, Director of Emerging Verticals and Qualitative Research, Nielsen, Sri Lanka addressing the audience

In summary, broadband usage is high for data through smartphones. A majority of data usage is for browsing the internet and for social networking apps. In comparison 4G/LTE connections and ADSL connections are in use by the older age groups. There are opportunities for affordable smartphones, and 4G/LTE connections for elder generation and an opportunity for customized packages to suit the needs of different age groups. It was also noted that a majority of the concerns regarding broadband is related to download/upload speeds and also consistent connectivity.

Next was business enterprises.

The small enterprises ranged from wholesale and retail to electrical equipment, to Telcos. The report went on to show that although most SE (small enterprises) use broadband connections, the number of employees using broadband connections within the organization is not high.

A majority of SE use broadband for primary business functions such as sales and marketing, Logistics and Operations with 4G/LTE connections along with ADSL being the main types of connections used. A majority of devices used were desktops taking a lion’s share with laptops and smartphones coming in 2nd and 3rd, respectively. In addition only ⅕ of all SEs interviewed considered switching to a different type of connection within the next year.

Medium and Large Scale Enterprises tell a slightly different story. Here, there is a high usage of broadband services among employees with equally high usage for both primary and secondary business functions. They also recorded a high usage across different types of broadband connections such as 4G/LTE connections, leased lines, mobile data, mobile dongles, FTTH connections and ADSL connections. Majority of devices used are desktop and laptops.They also have in house dedicated servers with their own local storage as opposed to cloud storage.

With regard to Educational institutes,

Apart from a few Government schools, a majority of educational institutions use broadband service for both educational administrative purposes. This is especially applicable to e-learning programmes. But, the issues faced in carrying out these long distance programs are that:

  • There’s a Lack of awareness of e-learning facilities
  • Lack of hardware/software resources to facilitate e-learning.
  • Lack of proper broadband services for the students to access these resources.

There was also an issue where a majority of the parents and teachers were concerned about students accessing inappropriate sites during school time. This would be curtailed by imposing appropriate security measures.

Last, but by no means the least,

72% of Divisional Hospitals and primary medical care units noted that they access broadband but 25% said they don’t access but also noted that they would be willing to use broadband services. The average usage is 30GB. This is used to maintain patient records, for administrative tasks and to send/receive emails

What are the Asia Pacific Achievements and Successful Practices?

That was the topic of Sameer Sharma, Senior Advisor – ITU Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. Sameer opened up his presentation by explaining about the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals and ICT. ICT is one of the key catalysts in achieving the SDGs, he says. For the year 2020, the Global goals for ICT targets in 2020 are as follows:

  • Goal 1 – Growth. This involves enabling access to use of Telco/ICT
  • Goal 2 – Inclusiveness – Bridge the digital divide and provide Broadband access for all
  • Goal 3 – Sustainability
  • Goal 4 – Innovation

Going into the finer details, we see that the growth for mobile broadband subscriptions is higher for low developed countries. In terms of affordability, mobile broadband connections are far cheaper than fixed broadband connections in developing countries. In Lower developed countries fixed broadband entry level connections are 2.6x more expensive that entry level mobile broadband connections.

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Sameer Sharma, Senior Advisor – ITU Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific addressing the audience

Sameer then spoke about IoT (Internet of Things) and gave a definition of it. Even if IoT leads us to a smarter society, it still needs to be regulated. According to research done with regard to the current status of national broadband policies, 151 countries have implemented broadband plans and policies. The cost of broadband is between $5-45 for entry level connections, whereas high speed connections range between the $17.6 to over $500. In conclusion, Sameer left us with these recommendations:

  • Wireless and fixed broadband are critical infrastructure to digital economy
  • Make spectrum available for use.
  • Stimulate development and utilization of local content.

What Are the Smart Ways to the Digital Society? We were about to find out

The session was conducted by Bill Lan, Chief NBN Strategist at Huawei. Bill started off by explaining that Broadband is bringing great socioeconomic benefits. It has also become national competitiveness. For example, Korea has a 1G broadband vision by 2020. Broadband also enables more benefits created by ICT. He showed an example of Suzhou, a city which merges both ancient and modern. Their goal is to be the first all fiber city in china, to improve city management and digitize local industries and also to enable digital life. They also have a 100% FTTH coverage 1Gbps ready network.

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Bill Lan, Chief NBN Strategist at Huawei addressing the audience

A major issue that delay broadband construction and implementation is accessibility and high construction cost for most developing countries. A regulation policy could relief major cost issues.Bill explained that imposing an infrastructure sharing obligation would reduce construction cost. In addition, he also emphasized on mandatory FTTH connections. Portugal, for example, mandates that new and refurbished buildings should have at least 3 fiber connections. In short, broadband development should be the social responsibility of all stakeholders.

Broadband ForumHe then showed an example of collaborated construction with regard to an inter-city fiber network. In Nigeria for example, Phase 3 Telecom is implementing a system where they can distribute Fiber cables by the means of electricity towers to provide transmission network. He also used an example of companies that dig their own trenches to save connection fees and also a fiber pre-deployment mechanism where the required infrastructure for Fiber connectivity is already laid out in the building itself. ESB Telecom, for example, uses the same towers and lines for power and FTTH lines. In conclusion, Bill noted that Government leadership and cross-ministerial communication is a must. In closing, he emphasized that we must continuously promote investment in digital infrastructure.

Stay tuned with us for Part Two of the Sri Lanka Broadband Forum 2017 where we see a panel discussion on Open Roads to a better connected Sri Lanka, e-Government and Broadband policies, and enabling the digital era with Mobile Money.


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