New Networks and Challenges for Pakistan Telecomm– How Huawei has been a true partner to help PTCL evolve
Pakistan's first telco, PTCL, has been instrumental in growing the country's infrastructure, and ICT Insights recently interviewed Mr. Naveed Saeed, Senior Executive Vice-President, Commercial division, about both the company's and the country's evolution.
ICT Insights: Please tell us about PTCL, and how PTCL conducts business in Pakistan and the surrounding region?
Mr. Saeed: The Pakistan Telecommunication Company, Ltd. (PTCL) has existed since the independence of this country, for 66 years. From Day-One PTCL was state-owned and regulated with a basic, plain old telephone system for voice communication.
Later, it became a corporation moving towards becoming a private entity. Six or seven years ago, Etisalat bought a managing share of the company. With the advent of GSM, substitutions for voice began because of convenience, pricing, and customers' intent on accessing telephony in a simpler form than a wire line subscription. That profoundly affected how people used their personal devices and wire line services. We've seen the migration happen, for more than 100 million customers in a country with a population of about 180 million so far.
PTCL just let the company's landline business go down, though this is now being offset by DSL customers. But this is not just about plain voice telephony; PTCL is presently the biggest interconnector company, with the international gateways and the Internet exchange gateways. PTCL is a consortium member of IMEWE, SEA-ME-WE 3, SEA-ME-WE 4, with further expansions planned. We are the traffic carrier to and from the country, and the international calling business is now managed completely by the PTCL consortium.
This leaves us with a very large footprint across the country. We have millions of kilometers of copper network buried across the country, which goes the last mile to the customer. And we carry traffic town to town; we have fiber networks to do that as well. We have the biggest microwave network in the country as well, with resilient, diverse links to support all the operators across the country for backhaul, long haul and international.
In the last two years, the Data Era has arrived. Our organization consists of three tiers: the enterprise, business, and consumer levels. The enterprise business was already there, supporting the banks locally and internationally, for transactions, for large corporations and other institutions of this nature.
Now, with the advent of the apps market and the opening up of new handsets, new devices, and new computing capabilities and platforms, we have to compete in terms of storage, processes, and connectivity. It's a totally different segment for the consumer market now with the iPhone.
To run the Android market, somebody has to have a data connection network. Today, Pakistan does not have GSM 3G networks. We also happened to have a CDMA wireless network, and we were the first operator in the world to go for Rev B Ev-DO, commercially deployed with a commercial device. The Rev B networks were built to provide capacity to backbone operators, but what made the difference was that the technology resulted in a product that could be used. We were the first ones to get Rev B at speeds up to 9.3 Mbps.
That made a significant difference in the way people were operating in Pakistan. On wire lines, it was DSL. On wireless, it's Ev-DO. So that gave people the opportunity to use all the applications, all the services they wanted – such as storage, downloading games, watching videos, listening to music and play lists. So whatever you can do with the Android market and with the other apps on the market, that's the direction we're going. In the enterprise market, we connect almost all the banks. We connect almost all agencies locally and internationally through an International Private Leased Circuit (IPLC) network, a Digital Power Line Communication (DPLC) network, a Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) network, or even just a plain IP network. That's how governments are connected to emerging small business segments, and where I see the focus on cloud computing.
For us, cloud computing is a one-stop solution for enterprise, small business, or individuals. For an individual, it's his social connections and entertainment source, and his storage and retrieval of information, however and whenever he wants. If you're in a small business, it's actually running your business, having your own small ERP system and logistics management, your financial management, your payroll, your HR, etc.
ICT Insights: So are you providing those services already?
Mr. Saeed: The upper tier, yes, we're already there. For the upper tier on the cloud, we have our data centers, storage, redundancy, resilience, and connectivity, and we have spread across the country. That middle and small business segment remains to be done, and that's a big segment in this country. And, the consumer segment will continue to self-evolve, with different applications across all platforms.
ICT Insights: What kind of services are you providing for them?
Mr. Saeed: Well, we've been able to establish a unified communications platform. We also do video conferencing and Internet domain name service. We give you the whole solution, what you would really need to run your business. And these days, a lot of that is the storage component. We have some major clients at this point and are gradually growing in that area.
Also, I think the concept of outsourcing ICT requirements is quickly taking off now in this country. Before that, the banks, for example, were really insecure. They said, "Don't touch my data. Don't look at it. I need my own data center. I need my own redundancy. I need my own disaster recovery."
Now, I think times are different. We don't think that people are going to make those same kinds of decisions, to do it all themselves. They have to keep their businesses running, which is hard, especially with the operating cost, the infrastructure cost, and the man-hour cost. Everything is going up. And maybe the per-unit profit is going down because higher oil prices, higher people costs, higher CAPEX, and higher operating costs. So that releases them to consider something that in a way is an outsourced solution: cloud-based services.
We've really embraced that idea. We did a seminar once with the banking community and the CIOs of all of those organizations were there, and they said, "Oh, my God! I can get all this! Somebody else has racks, servers, storage, firewall and security? Somebody else gives me resilience, redundancy, connectivity, and disaster recovery. Why would I want to do all of this myself?" And then I give you backup for wireless as well.
ICT Insights: So for the Small and Medium Business (SMB), what products and services are you thinking about?
Mr. Saeed: One of the processes we were discussing was gridlock solution. That isn't at the consumer level; it's more at the utility level. I think that a country which is energy starved at this point and needs to control pilferage, really needs to control access and the whole process in its totality. That's something the institution should really work to correct. And on the jobsite, it's something that I think we need to be looking at deeply. On the entertainment side, we were discussing the IPTV. We have an IPTV service, which has been launched in Pakistan, as an example of how we're broadening our network. It has 125 channels. It has video on demand. It has time shift capability, and we're adding more content and applications to it to make it more comfortable. However, our current operators want to be moving from this system. Moving to a solution bridge will be a part of the next upgrade that we are looking at. That opens up more possibilities for how consumers derive entertainment.
ICT Insights: I'm also interested in learning what type of quality tools you use in your region and what has worked for your organization?
Mr. Saeed: Like I said, PTCL was a single, all-powerful, state monopoly. That was the impression, the brand, and the image. And then we went completely privatized, and very competitive. Because of that, we have transformed ourselves to become a more commercial, customer-centered organization.
I start by fixing my complete network, people, agenda and everything. That's already happening. It is a big shift, though gradual, and affects 30,000 people internally. It's going to take a little time for the skill set, for the mindset, to change. So PTCL is transforming. I think 50 percent has already happened and the other 50 percent, we'll see in a couple years' time.
But to transform it, the first things we worked on were the impression and image, the perception of this company. Having become privatized, we have state-of-the-art contact centers. We listen to our customers. We provide customers service at their doorsteps. There's no wait time, as there used to be, to get a clear phone connection. In our monopoly days, it could take years. Now, it takes you three days, installed at your doorstep.
This is the impression we have to get out: We are friendly, customer-centered, and we watch the bottom line. We are goal-oriented, have targets, and get compensated for performance. That was a difficult buy-in for the company and its accountants, but we transformed it. So this needs to be communicated to the outside world; not just the consumers, but the country at large. This started with new products and marketing activities, using all the right ingredients – social media, digital advertising, word of mouth, print – all of that put together, to develop an image and a brand. We have quantified over the past couple of years that the brand persona of PTCL has changed from "Oldish, authoritative, and serious, don't mess with this person," to "Youngish, entrepreneur, executive, very corporate, flashy, high tech, the latest gadgets, the one everyone looks up to." That's where we're moving.
We've become more open, and there has been a transformation. We're happy that there's fresh blood coming into this organization. We now understand how to build the right image. It was all about how perception followed reality, not the other way around.
ICT Insights: And how long have you been working with Huawei?
Mr. Saeed: More than four years, I would say. Huawei has always been there with us, in support of our wire line initiatives and wireless and other segments. On the wire line side, we had upgrades and moves to other applications platforms. We had IPT platforms and G phone connectivity. Then FTTB, FTTC, what we call the MSATs. They were all commercially deployed, and the Huawei relationship continues.
ICT Insights: Will you continue with the solutions that Huawei provides?
Mr. Saeed: Yes. We're still looking at Huawei products. We have learned how stuff actually works, and how Huawei functions as an organization. So it is easier for us to be more comfortable. On the core input side, there's a lot of IP work. There's an upgrade to engines. That's happened on the wireless access network and on the core network, now we're also on handheld devices. We have the dongles for our Ev-DO network and we have the downloads. We're looking at tablets now, and IPTV set-top boxes. Maybe some modems. Huawei personnel continue to be helpful in the support that they are providing us. People might think that PTCL helped Huawei to become established and successful in the region, when really, it's the other way around. Huawei is very sophisticated, and has had a strong presence in the area for a long time, bringing new services, devices, applications, platforms, technologies, and products. I think it is easier for the operator to succeed with marketing plans that are built on products that are currently available.