TRCSL to gear up next phase of broadband development
The Telecom Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) had been able
to achieve its preliminary targets of broadband within a period of time
less than anticipated upon reflecting on the success of its initiative.
The quality of service and the rates being paid by the subscribers
monthly for broadband services has been identified as two major items
that require the attention of the TRCSL. Fixed broadband services
associated with poor download speeds and high monthly rentals were
recognized as barriers to the development of broadband in Sri Lanka.
From the perspective of fixed broadband, little or no competition and
lack of regulatory intervention would have been the main reason for this
situation to arise in the country.
Speed is the key
Speed is the under current that drives broadband forward. Broadband
would not have become so popular in the world if it is not powered with
speed. Higher bandwidth capacities and support of multifunctional
operations have contributed much towards the widespread of high speed
broadband services in every corner of the world. Therefore, the aspect
of speed which is a prerequisite for broadband development has to be
looked in by the telecom regulators. Degraded broadband services would
cause retardation in usage due to loss of confidence among users about
its potentials. Having identified this situation the Sri Lankan
regulator, TRCSL has taken timely measures to apprehend the QoS
deterioration in broadband services through a strategic regulatory
Fixed Vs Wireless broadband
In the Sri Lankan context three fixed wireless operators had to
compete with the incumbent operator who is the owner of the copper
network in broadband operations. The incumbent operator holds the
ownership of the submarine cable landing stations which connects the
country to the SEA-ME-WE cable systems physically in two locations.
While fixed broadband operators use costly WiMAX (802.16d) in their
operations, the incumbent used its copper plant to provide ADSL to its
subscribers. Irrespective of the technology high price and poor quality
have been observed right across in all services.
The rates of fixed broadband remained unchanged for a longer period
until 2010 due to poor competitiveness prevailed in the country. This
was mainly due to the technical and cost differences in technologies
used in broadband operations. It is a well known fact that the market
would never become competitive until the cost gap of network operations
become narrower in technologies used in broadband operations. Who has
the cost advantage in operations could control the market artificially,
as long as the cost of operations remain high in other technologies due
to various reasons. This dominancy enables a single operator to control
everything from price to quality to suit its commercial interests.
Simply, wireless operators, who use WiMAX, had failed to induce any
competition in the market due to uneven conditions of the playing field
Entry of mobile broadband
However during this period Sri Lanka had entered in to an era of
mobile broadband with the launch of 3G HSPA services. This situation has
further deteriorated the fixed broadband market thus it had virtually
come to a standstill. Strong competition in 3G HSPA caused price per GB
to come down drastically within a short period of time with higher data
transfer speeds. People who were on 512kbps had been able to experience
data speed up to 3.6Mbps with the introduction of HSPA service in 2007.
The initial cost spent on HSPA is substantially lower compared to costs
being spent on fixed wireless broadband services. However the
availability of fixed broadband services is essentially needed for the
growth of broadband. To fulfill demands set up by certain applications
especially on the bandwidth, fixed services with acceptable QoS is
needed at an affordable price. So the TRCSL had to face three challenges
initially. That is to improve QoS, reduce prices and to increase
competition in fixed broadband services.
As a strategic measure, the TRCSL began monitoring the quality of
broadband services in late 2010. A unit was been established especially
for this purpose with sophisticated equipment to monitor Internet speeds
of broadband services. Findings of this unit were publicized regularly
for the knowledge of the public. Subsequently, to allow other operators
to improve their QoS, rates of the incumbent's submarine cable landing
station charges were also brought down through strategic regulatory
Gradual but momentous QoS improvement was recorded in fixed broadband
operations soon after the TRCSL's broadband benchmarking process.
Operators started to compete for higher speeds and have taken all
efforts to be at the top of the graphs published by the regulator
regularly in its website.
Sri Lankan broadband subscribers have realized the potentials of
broadband that really packed with high speed, for the first time as a
result of this action.
Operator sustainability is a paramount regulatory aspect
It is the considered view that no operator in this region would
possibly deliver an unlimited broadband service to customers with an
acceptable QoS unless the operator has unlimited network resources.
Previously, service providers offered packages with the "unlimited"
marketing tagline to attract customers but in fact provide very low
speeds of data transfer. QoS improvements influenced operators to adopt
traffic policies and to introduce new packages to the market with pre
allocated data volumes to gain control on network resources instead of
continuing with the so called unlimited packages.
The TRCSL has foreseen the importance of introducing such traffic
policies which is vital for the sustainable broadband operations, and
persuaded operators to release volume based packages to the market.
Actually this parameter would be one of the key parameters which
differentiate broadband services from dedicated Internet leased circuits
which is offered to customers at a premium rate.
However the introduction of volume based packages cannot be another
scheme to restrict the Internet usage of customers. To prevent such
triggering action, the TRCSL has introduced a smart mechanism to this
market segment by creating competition among operators. As of today this
mechanism had been able to alter not only the price per GB, but the
bandwidth of fixed broadband services successfully to a greater capacity
which exceeds 15Mbps in the downlink. Subsequently the entry level price
has fallen approximately to rupees 1400 per month speeds up to 8Mbps.
However packages with greater data volume capacities are relatively
higher compared to regional countries. The TRCSL anticipates a price
drop in packages with greater volume capacities as the market gets
Having completed the phase one successfully, the TRCSL is now ready
to deploy its phase two soon, focusing mainly on policies,
standardization and broadband deployment plans to increase its
penetration especially in underserved areas while encouraging
investments directly in broadband deployment.