Located at the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka is famous for the beauty of its natural environment and friendly people. This pearl in the Indian Ocean has a population of approximately 20 million, and despite its status as a developing country, Sri Lankans are generally well-educated. Due to the civil war that ended in 2009, Sri Lanka’s infrastructure is underdeveloped; however, since the war, the Sri Lankan government has moved quickly with economic reconstruction, placing a particular focus on developing ICT, having developed its national broadband policy and e-Sri Lanka strategy.
Rapid advances in communications technology based on the Internet and social media have made people's lives better. However, broadband penetration is only 2 percent, far below the global average of 9.3 percent, meaning that many people are excluded from the digital dividend. This is because the rate of urbanization is relatively low, with some 80 percent of Sri Lankans living in the countryside, where population density is low and the provision of fixed-line broadband coverage is very expensive. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are particularly affected. SME users have a high need for broadband, but the slow speed of 3G broadband technology is unable to meet their needs. This impacts the growth and efficiency of businesses. Developing broadband for home and SME users to bridge the digital divide is a high priority for Sri Lanka's government and telecoms industry.
Sri Lanka's mobile communications market is relatively mature, with five major mobile operators providing mobile communications services in a fiercely competitive environment. Even Sri Lanka's leading mobile operator, Dialog, has felt the profit squeeze in the mobile market. Dealing with competition and finding a sustainable way to make money is a problem facing all operators in this space.
Dialog understands the strengths and benefits of wireless broadband (WBB). In 2010, the operator launched WiMAX WBB services to satisfy the need for broadband access for some home users. In the last few years, with the TD-LTE industry chain rapidly maturing, Dialog has recognised the value of evolving from WiMAX to LTE and TDD spectrum. So in 2012, the operator acquired 75 MHz of TDD 2.3 GHz spectrum after acquiring the broadcast company Sky TV; then, in 2013 it partnered with Huawei to roll out Sri Lanka's first home broadband service based on TD-LTE using a WTTx (wireless to the x) access solution.
WTTx offers low network construction costs and rapid deployment. By leasing customer premise equipment (CPE) to users, the operator can reduce the initial broadband service fee, lowering the threshold for accessing broadband services. Compared to high initial deployment costs and equipment usage fees of fixed-line broadband, the competitive advantages of WTTx are clear.
Before stepping into the broadband services arena, Dialog formulated several key strategies after extensive research, including where to develop WTTx services, which users to target, and how to provide high-quality services. Detailed research on aspects such as Sri Lanka's broadband market, population distribution, per capita income, and data traffic distribution helped Dialog compile a top 10 list of target areas, which included the capital Colombo, Galle, and Gamphaha. This answered the question of where to develop WTTx services, so Dialog quickly deployed a network and rolled out its WTTx service.
As for which users to target, Dialog also had a unique strategy: First, the operator quickly deployed WBB and rapidly attracted users who had no fixed-line broadband coverage by lowering initial broadband costs with measures like Buy & Plug & Play, operator subsidies, and leasing CPE to users.
Second, Dialog offered flexible tariffs to target different types of users, for example, setting fees for plans with voice services 30 percent fee higher than those with no voice services. The operator also used a differentiated QoS strategy to attract high-ARPU subscribers and SME users. To provide enterprise solutions for SME customers, Dialog offered packages that included voice, VPN, and multi-user broadband access. The tariff was six times higher than for a normal home user plan.
Third, it adopted strategies to increase user stickiness and reduce churn such as cultivating pre-paid users and bundles for CPE and equipment, TV and broadband services, and Wi-Fi and WBB services. Fourth, it launched new innovative services for WBB, such as the Dialog Video App. Fifth, Dialog set up experience areas in customer service centers to let customers experience the convenience of WBB services first hand.
This series of measures helped Dialog rapidly attract users. Dialog also focused on deploying new technologies, including 8T8R RRU, indoor and outdoor CPE, and 4x4 MIMO and CA. These innovative software and hardware solutions helped the operator provide an excellent broadband experience for subscribers.
WTTx deployment has narrowed Sri Lanka's digital gap with the rest of the world, introduced the Sri Lankan people to a new dawn of broadband services, and helped Sri Lankan businesses hop on the fast track to growth.
Dialog deployed the WTTx network in 2013, quickly meeting the need for of some SME and home users for broadband, with the number of Dialog WTTx subscribers quickly breaking the 100,000 mark in less than two years. In 2015, Dialog adopted 2CC CA to deal with the rapidly growth in data traffic. At the end of 2015, the operator's broadband subscriber base had surged to 300,000, and its mobile broadband market share had grown to 10 percent.
Huawei is a long-standing partner of Dialog, helping it stand at the forefront of the WBB arena and achieve continuous commercial success. Looking to the future, traffic on mobile broadband and home broadband networks is set to grow at an astonishing rate, as smartphones and HD TV services proliferate. In 2016, Dialog and Huawei launched a joint 4.5G (TDD+) trial. Dialog's aim is to provide users with a faster and better user experience by leveraging new technology. Huawei and Dialog's collaboration reaches a new level every year, and the two jointly developed an optimal WTTx business model to achieve commercial success.
Dialog's WTTx deployment project is a landmark in terms of broadband construction in Sri Lanka and a milestone for the Sri Lankan government's National Broadband Plan.
On April 4, 2016, Huawei and Dialog signed a Memorandum of Cooperation to conduct a joint 4.5G (TDD+) trial to verify the technology and accelerate its commercial adoption. Huawei will soon launch CPE equipment that will provide gigabit peak rates, using Qualcomm 1 Gbps 4.5G chip sets, which were recently announced at MWC 2016. Users will soon be able to enjoy the ultimate zero-latency experience of watching HD TV and virtual reality over the Internet. The wide-scale commercial adoption of 4.5G (TDD+) technology will help WTTx continue to deliver higher capacity and better experience.
More than 300,000 users in Sri Lanka currently access WBB services through WTTx, enabling many to enjoy the convenience of mobile Internet. Leveraging the advantages WTTx technology will complement fixed-line broadband services and go a long way to achieving the e-Sri Lanka strategy of connecting the unconnected. In the future, WTTx will bring broadband access to even more homes and give Sri Lanka's economic development the wings it needs to soar.