Business Times

Fixed broadband not enough for SL, mobile needed : Etisalat CEO

By Jagdish Hathiramani

Fixed broadband connectivity alone cannot provide the Internet needs of Sri Lanka. Mobile broadband must step up and provide for the country's needs, according to Dumindra Ratnayaka, the Chief Executive of the local mobile unit of UAE-based telco Etisalat, in an exclusive interview with the Business Times. He also added there were only 250,000 fixed broadband subscribers to date, despite almost a decade of availability. However, in terms of mobile, there were already 12 million individual subscribers which was already a significant base of users to convert to mobile broadband. Also, 3G was best "beyond voice" as this technology's adoption in the data industry has been very different than in voice. As such, he asserted that Etisalat would be "strongly moving on mobile broadband."

Mr. Ratnayaka also noted that the biggest challenge for the Sri Lankan market was not investment, but devices (smartphones, tablet PCs, etc) being available, at the right price. He also revealed that it was only when mobile phones were offered at the right price that the local market exploded. Further suggesting that "in five years, smartphones will be everywhere," he noted that a goal for Etisalat was making this happen much sooner, which was why another focus area for the mobile operator was bringing down the cost of devices.

Reiterating this, he gave the example of how, when Etisalat introduced Huawei's US$ 100 Android smartphone (u8180) locally, 500 units were sold in just two days. In addition, speaking of his company's most recent foray into the Android mobile operating system in the form of the Etisalat Android Forum 2011, deemed a success as it attracted 1,800 registrants for 1,000 seats, Mr. Ratnayaka noted that this platform brought convenience to users at the right cost and Etisalat would continue to create awareness for it.

He also revealed that there were three more Android events due to be held in January 2012; one would be an intensive training, or deep dive, for developers; another an "Android ABCs" session for newcomers; and the third, an invitation only event for corporates where Android application (app) developers would be introduced to them with the overall purpose of increasing app development locally. Further, he indicated that this latter event would show banks, for example, the capabilities of Android devices in mobile banking, which "does it all" when compared to the inherent limitations of SMS banking. He noted that Android was the "right price" platform for businesses, giving them the opportunity to leapfrog in terms of access to mobile/Internet users.

Mr. Ratnayaka also suggested that Android devices could even surmount issues identified by existing mobile offerings, such as in the case of a local paid subscription-based SMS service whereby farmers have access to vegetable prices. This service, which was not well adopted because SMS had to be in English, would be more popular if accessed via an Android Sinhala-based app. Additionally, Android apps would not be limited by 3G availability, but could even be available in areas providing conventional 2G coverage.

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