News, views and commentary from the telecoms sector across emerging markets and developing countries worldwide

Thursday, 26 November 2009

WiMAX set to drive broadband growth in Sri Lanka?

Sky Network: WiMAX offering set to shake up Sri Lanka's broadband market?

News items from Sri Lanka's mobile market have caught the eye of DevelopingTelecomsWatch a few times of late. Most recently, DTW asked whether the arrival of the UAE's Etisalat as a player on the island nation's cellular scene would cause price competition to become even fiercer. It was noted that a sustained price war has been eroding tariffs and weakening cellcos' profitability over the last four years. Since then, further worrying figures from the country's telecoms sector have been released.

On November 11th, for example, Reuters reported that market leading MNO Dialog Telkom posted a fifth straight quarterly net loss for Q3 2009, disappointing analysts who had predicted the company would break even. Reuters reports that the telco, a unit of Malaysia's Axiata lost 438.9 million Sri Lankan rupees (USD 3.83 million) in the quarter which ended on September 30th. As well as margins being squeezed by fierce competition, the Reuters piece traces a link between between this loss and profit remaining elusive at Dialog Telekom's broadband and direct-to-home satellite TV operations.

That's the latest from the Sri Lankan mobile market. What, though, of the country's incumbent wireline operator, Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT)?

SLT, which was part-privatised in 1997, hit the headlines this week for its efforts to improve the availability of its services in the country's Northern and Eastern provinces, the areas affected by the on-and-off conflict between government forces and the Tamil Tigers, which ended earlier this year after twenty-six long years.

Harshini Perera of Sri Lanka's Daily News writes that SLT has addressed the need to improve its services in these areas by expanding its copper and fibre access networks, installing new exchanges and the CDMA base stations.

With a view to improving its broadband offering across the whole island, Sky Network, a subsidiary of SLT, will, according to Sri Lanka's Daily Mirror, be providing the WiMAX services to parts of the country where ADSL services are not offered. The Daily Mirror reports that the venture will commence operations in March 2010 and will initially provide services to Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara Districts.

It will be interesting to watch for the impact this WiMAX offering has once launched. Australian telecoms research company BuddeComm's Sri Lanka Internet Market report indicates that Internet access and other forms of data services have lately been starting to take off in the country, but that coverage and accessibility remain limited, with user penetration estimated by the ITU to be at around 6% by the end of 2008. Buddecomm's report contends that early moves to offer broadband Internet in Sri Lanka have met with only limited success, albeit with some promising signs of growth in 2008-09. The report notes that early activity in the wireless broadband segment of the market has not yet translated into significant subscriber numbers.

2010 looks to the year during which it will become apparent whether wireless access technologies will contribute significantly to the growth of broadband services in Sri Lanka.


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