Broadband Dreams #2

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The white colored steel cage that you see in the picture contains what could soon become the linchpin of your digital life in Karachi. You can spot them everywhere along the roadsides in the business districts as well as the higher and middle class residential areas of Karachi.

This is the new face of the consumer broadband company that PTCL wants to be.

Continuing from where we left the topic on KMB last year in April, these Optical Network Units are part of the Optical Fiber Access Network that is being rolled out for PTCL by Huawei on turn-key basis. This new-age network might be a golden chance for PTCL to shun the bad name and reputation it has earned for itself in the past and win back the service-starved market with innovative broadband services. But chances are chances.

The network comprises of around 200 such nodes spread across Karachi, with each node connected to the network via optical fiber rings that can self-heal themselves in case of an accidental fiber cut. The services can be centrally provisioned (and the network can be centrally monitored). The distributed and out-door nature of the nodes allows them to move closer to the end user. This reduces the copper length that is involved for a typical user to just a few hundreds of meters at maximum. The reduced copper length allows for a variety of xDSL services to be delivered which could carry much more capacity than the current ADSL services consumers are being provided by DSL operators. Higher capacities mean that the service provider can provide services beyond Internet browsing such as IPTV, Video on Demand and other multimedia services. Higher capacities on the uplink also mean users can, if allowed by the operator at a charge, host SOHO servers, use video conferencing and play high-end network games.

So no wonder PTCL obtained the first IPTV license in Pakistan back in November 2006.

These boxes are typically equipped with 500 xDSL ports each. Hence, to begin with, there are some 100,000 xDSL ports with shorter copper cable lengths. This is sharply in contrast with the ages-old copper cables that extend from the telephone exchange of your area to your place which has been mercilessly in use for decades now serving the telephone. Current DSL services are making use of these old copper lines to deliver the services. Current DSL providers are also faced with another challenge of not having enough scalable bandwidth from the telephone exchanges to their respective data centers. This challenge makes them limit even the inter-network bandwidth limits for their users which should essentially be cheaper (if not free at all) than the Internet bandwidth.

The new OFAN has higher backhaul bandwidths between these nodes that you see near your place. Even if Internet prices do not go down further, there are bright chances that inter-user bandwidth will finally be available for generic broadband usages making our broadband dreams come live to some extent.

The deal that PTCL finalized with Huawei and Irdeto points towards the additional IPTV and Video on Demand services that could be offered besides broadband Internet and inter-user bandwidth on this network in the coming days.

27 Comments so far

  1. newb3e (unregistered) on April 28th, 2007 @ 1:37 pm

    lets hope they provide good reliable service and yes no one would pay 5000 rs for so called 128 kilo bit broadband.


  2. Teeth Maestro (unregistered) on April 28th, 2007 @ 2:17 pm

    Great report I had no idea that this project can potentially be in the hands of PTCL but naturally one eyes PTCL with suspicion that they will most likely fumble away any such opportunity and not know any better.


  3. Lies (unregistered) on April 28th, 2007 @ 3:10 pm

    Excellent. Now that they have an infrastructure, they should license it and let someone else deal with the details. Doing it themselves might not be the best of ideas.


  4. Kashif (unregistered) on April 28th, 2007 @ 4:09 pm

    Broadband in Pakistan is too much hyped up. With ISPs selling 64K connections as ‘Broadband’, terrible support and lack of accountability by the monitoring authority, these news items seem too good to be true. We have seen CDMA, Home DSL and lot of similar stuff going down the drain. The service providers are efficient in first few months of launch and later on they all become same money-suckers.


  5. Raza (unregistered) on April 28th, 2007 @ 4:13 pm

    They have even started given subscribers fiber optic telephone connections here in our area (Malir Cantt). They say DSL is coming pretty soon too. Can’t wait and I hope it’s worth it.


  6. BitterTruth (unregistered) on April 28th, 2007 @ 4:18 pm

    Thanks for an informative post TM!!


  7. zubair (unregistered) on April 28th, 2007 @ 4:20 pm

    i have been hearing about this from long time when actually it will start.


  8. Zag (unregistered) on April 28th, 2007 @ 4:31 pm

    Actually i have seen the Worldcall workers probing and proding in these boxes near my house so i naturally assumed that these are for Wordcall broadband…. are you sure these belong to PTC?


  9. ronin1770 (unregistered) on April 28th, 2007 @ 6:54 pm

    I wonder how much will it cost! Problem with under-ground cables in karachi – is freaking digging by other departments.

    Well QoS (Quality of Service) is a concept lost in pakistan – my phone line has noise issues since last monsoon – they haven’t fixed it yet


  10. Sufi (unregistered) on April 28th, 2007 @ 8:59 pm

    Have my fingers crossed no this one. I just wish it comes true. High Speed Internet is one thing that I crave when in Karachi. InshaAllah, some day.


  11. Adnan Siddiqi (unregistered) on April 29th, 2007 @ 12:38 am

    Broadband and PTCL are like bv and her sotan. saath saath nahi chal saktay :-)


  12. Adnan Siddiqi (unregistered) on April 29th, 2007 @ 12:43 am

    GO CDMA was a good project, IMO, it was better than DSL. I am not sure why it didn’t get much popular. Tariq sahab could clarify about it further:)


  13. Kashif (unregistered) on April 29th, 2007 @ 1:48 am

    I haven’t got anything good to tell about CDMA, neither any or my associates, am sure. I don’t like to get personal on this but I think Arfeen group hasn’t done justice to it.


  14. verysmart (unregistered) on April 29th, 2007 @ 1:55 am

    The project however grand, has already failed, due to huawei not delivering on the all the 250 nodes that they promised and PTCL has been in continous quarrels over the issue with huawei.

    Another falling of the project is the use of Sonet over SDH technology, which means encapsulating Data packets over Time Division Multiplexed (TDM) transnmission, now the problem with that technology is that even if a customer is using 8kbps at a given time, his assigned minimum bandwidth (assume 64kbps) will continue to hogg space over the network. SDH is a good medium of transmission for TDM voice networks, but for pure data applications such as Internet, VoIP, IPTV and Metro VLANs, technologies such as Resilient Packet Ring (RPR) are most optimized since they are pure packet based solutions.

    Third; is the issue of IPTV and its Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) prices (around USD 70 per unit) are quite expensive boxes compared to IF based devices such as DTH Set-top-boxes which can be as low as USD 20. there will be heavy competition given the fact that DTH service provider are free to provide the country wide services without any recurring infrastructure costs being escallating on every customer.

    It is of extreme importance in this business to have a very lean per customer cost of infrstructure and per customer cost of service provison, in case of DTH provider this will go down by every single customer take up, regardless of the fact if one customer is in Karachi and another in Azad Kashmir.

    Karachi Alone has various city wide fiber networks; Multinet, Satcomm, WorldCall, NTC, Resco, wateen, PTCL and a few other smaller players, with most of these network having live transmissions on theirrespective fibers already.

    The need of the moment is rather to have them work in a collaboration by allocating them to operate services which complement the other providers in a positive manner, leaving the customer to independently choose the bouquet of services he may like from each operator. creating a true multi service multi operator network, rather than reinvestingon something which is already deployed by others several times over.

    although I am an optimist, however I am very concerend about the presence of a sane business case.

    I sincerely hope to be proven wrong on this one… Good Luck PTCL!!!


  15. Red_Munk!! (unregistered) on April 29th, 2007 @ 2:03 am

    Great post TEE EMM.

    I always thought the white boxes were WorldCall hubs.

    Issuing licences is always a way of making money in our country, but iptv still is exciting.

    For HDTV (the future) to be delivered you need a constant of over 1.5 mbps. its a miracle if i get 20kbps constant & i have the WC256 connection.

    PTCL has only now started to invest in its backbone & the way things work in this country, it will be a long time before the iptv dream is realised.

    Another thing is cost, ppl bitch to pay the 300 tv/100+ internet fees. Would the economy be able to support even a $30/month pricepoint??

    Having said that, Its great to see them working to improve on their folies. We should remember theat PTCL is not a gov owned anymore & if anyone makes international calls from PTCL, you would know that the quality has become amazing & infact, ocasionally it costs me less (Landline) than a calling card or Telenor (cheapest Int rates).

    The litmus test for me would be, the # of hours the Internet is “down”, the next time cmm3 gets damaged & how quick they can fix it.

    @ Ronin: Have u tried calling their helpline? Always works for me—although my noise always seems to be an ‘internal’ issue.

    @ AS: haha, funny.

    the 3 ppl i knew who were GO CDMA subscribers bitched since they got it. Complained that the service never worked, no one ever answered the helpline & if u went to the office, the attendents were rude &/or un co-operative.

    These are but 3 examples & u might classify them as isolated incidents, but the tech was based on 20+ year old INSTAPHONE networks (Moto i think),

    cdma was always a backward tech (dont quote NTT or KTT, their tech & networks are vastly superior).


  16. Adnan Siddiqi (unregistered) on April 29th, 2007 @ 2:54 am

    @VerySmart: Thanks for giving an indepth analysis of the technology. A/C to your review,It’s really not cost effective.


    if a customer is using 8kbps at a given time, his assigned minimum bandwidth (assume 64kbps) will continue to hogg space over the network

    Do you mean that assigned bandwidth in other technologies (DSL etc) varies according to usage?

    Speaking of CDMA, PTCL also started “V” to reply GO CDMA. I wonder whether someone gave it a try or not?

    Any Updates about WiMAX??


  17. verysmart (unregistered) on April 29th, 2007 @ 3:48 am

    Dear Adnan,
    yeh cost is one thing, the other is the efficiency of the technology.

    TDM based systems are designed for Voice application which have nearly same bandwidth requirements all throughout the bandwidth usage aka voice call (if we ignore the silent moments), however packet based applications such as Internet access are oppurtunity based systems, for instance if you have only one Internet Explorer window opened and you are currently reading my reply, it means the content of this page has already been downloaded and no internet bandwidth is being used at the moment by you as a user, in this case if you have signed up for a 64 Kbps or 128 kbps bandwidth package from PTCL, your unused bandwidth can be assigned to me if I am downloading a song or a movie so if the whole system is designed for 10,000 simultaneous users, it can support upto 100,000 simultaneous users (for example). In a TDM network like the one PTCL has built , if you are online and not even consuming anything at all, still your 64 kbps of assigned banwidth cant be used by anyone else on the network, which is a very annoying factor, and a very bad network design, considering the fact that very soon it will have a lot of usage load.

    Plus RPR or any other packet based solutions are very very cost friendly. I remember in 2003 when we bought Asia’s second RPR network I got 3 units capable of generating 5.0Gbps network capacity for just USD 60,000. While a TDM based solution was in excess of USD 300,000 and can only get upto 2.5Gbps.

    I am not a expert on wireless technologies, however from my study of worldwide trends, I think Wateen’s 802.16e WIMAX will soon be a big winner.


  18. Red_Munk!! (unregistered) on April 29th, 2007 @ 8:37 am

    By the time Wateen finally rolls out its service, 802.n will be the standard. Shouldnt a new tech be future proofed?

    & VS, maybe im wrong, but the way stuff works here, Hwai prob sold ptcl their eq at a heavily subsidised rates &/or offered some kind of ‘package’ in order to move units.


  19. Zeeshan Syed (unregistered) on April 29th, 2007 @ 9:38 am

    WATEEN is SLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEPPPPINNNGG. Stupid guys! There SHOULD be some marketing, even if they are far away from launch. If not marketing then they should at least inform us about their progress?

    PTCL – Privitized or not, anything that has remained under Pak government will NEVER survive. PERIOD!


  20. verysmart (unregistered) on April 29th, 2007 @ 9:44 am

    Red Munk; this is how chinese companies work here, they quote the required project for X amount and usually have a few items unquoted, when the project is in the deployment phase, the company realizes and asks them about it, and they pretends as if they had no idea that the company will also require this perticular unit aswell, they then quote that arm of the project and make 4-5 times more profit on it.

    Plus their usual idea is to sell the core product eveat 10 times lower than the actual cost and then keeep on charging a fortune on network expansion, post sales services and mainenance, and they make sure that they keep a few units on proprietry technology so once you are hooked you cant get out of it by using any other vendor for the network expansion, you have to marry the chinese product for the rest of your life :)

    but by now PTCL and NTC have both learned their lessons… a bit too late maybe.


  21. Adnan Siddiqi (unregistered) on April 29th, 2007 @ 1:38 pm

    @verySmart: Thanks for explaining and educating me. Very much appreciated.

    @Zeeshan: Wateen is not sleeping. It’s just you don’t know about their marketing strategy. I have worked in one of the company of AbuDhabi group and their marketing strategy is always different than others and it’s pretty aggressive. They already announced worldwide that WiMax would be implemented in Pakistan, it was all over on cNET,ZdNet etc. They have already started testing in 15+ major cities of Pakistan including karachi. As soon as they will get a green signal from their engineers, they would announce their packages and keeping the past experience in mind, I expect they would come out with surprising rates i:e very cheap!

    Alarming situation for big players like Cybernet,Supernet and companies like DanCOmm etc.


  22. d0ct0r (unregistered) on April 29th, 2007 @ 3:36 pm

    i just don’t understand one thing , ISPs should be allowed to buy bandwidth from international open market instead of buying it from PTCL at ridiculous rates… if a isp in USA can offer 15 Mbps down and 2 Mbps up connection for just $50 then whats stopping our local ISPs to offer similar package?

    http://www22.verizon.com/content/consumerfios/packages+and+prices/packages+and+prices.htm


  23. d0ct0r (unregistered) on April 29th, 2007 @ 3:55 pm

    bank Alfalah and other AbuDhabi group’s companies CNBC etc are already using wateen’s telephone and other services…


  24. Adnan Siddiqi (unregistered) on April 30th, 2007 @ 12:02 am

    Doctor,it doesn’t matter as long as local ISPs are dependant on old desi PTCL based Infrastructure plus main undersea Internet channel SEAMEWE is controlled by PTCL.

    Speakin of IPTV, telenor launches first ever Mobile TV service after their news portal. I tried to cover it on my blog


  25. wasiq (unregistered) on April 30th, 2007 @ 3:07 am

    MMM more mobile mania:”i am sitting in front of him and he is watching five minutes early news…harami ghada..@#$%^”


  26. Red_Munk!! (unregistered) on May 1st, 2007 @ 8:48 am

    KMB ate my post GRRRR!!!! :@.

    anyways, to repeat my self (:[)

    @ Doc. Verizon is crap + as much as I’d like to cream with you, comp + economies of scale.

    @ Adnan: PTCL is the only national carrier + it (was) a nationalised company. The ‘backbone’ is always controlled by the big Teclo (At&t in the Us, but since pacbell was broken up, the differnt part have their own sources).

    How can you not expect PTCL to control acess to the SEAMEWE??

    As for Telenor.

    I love their services, been using the same # as my default before the official launch and rarely do i complain (& i use my phone A LOT. Data/Voice/Text).

    This service looks like a gimick to me, Albeit a very costly one.

    The service starts with rs 52+ regiseration. (ok, no reasonable).

    Then they charge you rs 400/month. This may also have been acceptalbe if they had one decent channel on there. (Im prob a bad example as i watch a max of 10hrs tv/week and less than 1hrs is one of the available channel) (ESPN/Super sport if ure interested).

    The deal breaker though is the rs 15/mb restriction.

    Telenor’s ‘online’ services are unrivalled IMO, but unless they are offering ubiqutious 3g (& im not even talking HSDPA here), I cant see how this would work.

    To acess their EDGE service i usually have to remain static & even then it comes and goes.

    Oh & if you mms frequently, you would realise that a simple audio/data file or even a hq pic can go upto 1/2 a meg.

    One can only imagine what kind of data charges would be added for streaming video.

    Alas its only in its early days. Add ESPN & im on board dispite the astronomical charges :P


  27. Red_Munk!! (unregistered) on May 1st, 2007 @ 8:50 am

    Oops, i forgot to mention the ON TOPIC link :P

    http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/Broadband_to_go_free_in_2_yrs/articleshow/1955351.cms

    “Broadband to go free in 2 yrs”



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