“You cannot connect everyone with a wire or fibre optics because the affordability is such that you need to have wireless solutions,” said Supun Weerasinghe – Group CEO of Dialog Axiata at the Asia-Pacific WTTx Summit. Organized by Huawei, GTI, and Informa, the event saw ICT leaders from across the Asia Pacific region. The goal of these discussions? To bring internet to more households across the region. And Huawei offered WTTx as a solution to this challenge.
What is WTTx?
WTTx is a home broadband technology. It uses 4G/4.5G technologies to deliver fiber-like wireless internet to households. As of 2017, there were 50 million global users of WTTx technology. Its greatest advantages are the low deployment costs and operating expenses. According to Huawei, WTTx makes it possible for telecom operators to build networks 90% faster and 75% cheaper with an ROI in less than 3 years.
Currently, in Sri Lanka, Dialog has adopted WTTx technology for its network. Speaking at the Asia-Pacific WTTx Summit, Supun Weerasinghe shared that this was the largest WTTx network in South Asia. Pradeep De Almeida – Group CTO of Dialog Axiata also said, “Current subscriber and data growth demands faster network rollouts and affordable services. We have identified WTTx to be the fastest way to cater to this demand.”
Preparing for 5G internet
Pradeep went onto say that technologies like WTTx, “will provide an easy upgrade path to 5G making the investments future proof. It allows an easy upgrade path to cater to ever-increasing throughput and customer demands.” We already saw 5G trails take place in Sri Lanka last year.
But when exactly can we expect to see a 5G network here in Sri Lanka? Supun answered that question by saying, “We see that the next 12 to 24 months will be the ideal time to launch 5G in Sri Lanka.”
He went onto say that Dialog is currently planning to explore introducing 5G through home broadband first. Only afterward can we expect to see the launch of mobile 5G internet. However, prior to launching 5G services, it’s necessary to identify the right spectrum bands for it to work.
To that end, Supun commended the TRCSL as a regulator. He described it as a progressive body and said, “Going forward, I think it is very important to continue the same momentum without losing sight of future technologies and without taking a break because 5G is coming.” Yet, he admitted that spectrum was only one element of the equation. With broadband, there are many other factors that can easily increase costs.
What it takes to connect rural communities
It was due to these rising costs that Shunli Wang – CEO of Huawei Sri Lanka argued that the government should play a more active role. He stated that Sri Lanka’s ICT infrastructure still has room for significant development. As such, for any telecom operator, it is a significant investment to build the infrastructure needed to connect people.
“WTTx reduces costs by 75%. But even then it’s still a significant investment,” he admitted. But getting the government involved is merely the start. Shunli shared that bringing affordable internet – especially to rural communities, requires all the stakeholders working together.
Shunli elaborated on the role of stakeholders saying, “Firstly, suppliers need to lower the costs of providing solutions. This is why we invest heavily in research. Secondly, operators should fulfill a social responsibility to provide all citizens with broadband access. Thirdly, the government should make investments in rural areas to provide connectivity.”
At the end of the day, there exists a deep digital divide in Sri Lanka with only 30% of the population having internet access. Technologies like WTTx make it easier to developer faster internet networks. Such networks would be cheaper and built much faster. But to bridge the digital divide requires the stakeholders doing more with such technologies. Ultimately, everyone has a role to play if the internet is to a cheap utility for even the most remote communities across Asia.