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 Pakistan is among very few countries where various competing broadband technologies have been allowed by the regulator. Though current broadband subscriptions are abysmally low at less than two million; PTA expects subscriptions and users to reach 19.5 million and 78 million respectively by 2020. Future growth is expected to be driven by wireless broadband, as it can substitute fixed broadband (DSL) and offer mobile internet through dongles & wifi hotspots. The WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) technology is a serious contender for future broadband uptake in Pakistan because it can roll out broadband very quickly, and operators can rapidly expand their footprints if things work out with the telcos. Globally, the highest WiMAX penetration is witnessed in Pakistan, with nearly one in three wireless broadband subscribers using WiMAX technology. Pakistan is hosting four WiMAX operators, and all of them are competing to establish their strongholds in major metropolis. However, the future of WiMAX operators needs to be analysed, for very soon, they would have company! Various ICT experts expect wireless BSPs to come under pressure in the post-3G milieu when the mobile network operators start targeting the data market through high speed mobile broadband. However, the WiMAX operators do not seem bothered at all, as a solid business case for WiMAX would still be there. The reasons for such optimism are varied. Since the MNOs could not create internet awareness, the association remains with the BSPs, including the branded WiMax operators. It is conceded that awareness and usage of internet would increase with mobile broadband, but it is also predicted that the throughput of the 3G data networks would not be good enough to deliver high speed broadband. In short, far from a threat, the WiMAX operators are seeing 3G as an opportunity. They feel that 3G would capture the attention of the hitherto non-internet users, make them interested in internet browsing. However, they would later switch to wireless broadband for a different, high-speed internet experience. Well, time and statistics will tell if that would actually be the case. However, there is one argument very few will disagree with. Mobility is important for people, and therefore they will make do with mediocre speeds of mobile internet. However, once stationed somewhere, like at office or home, people prefer high-speed internet experience, which the WiMAX operators will continue to provide. Installing a large number of Wifi hotspots at regular intervals in major commercial hubs and business areas would be a good proposition for WiMAX operators. Wifi hotspots are usually used as community infrastructure and their typical range is 100 meters. Think about this: deploying 100,000 hotspots could significantly change the competitive landscape. If the WiMAX operators manage to stay relevant, the question is where will the growth come from? There will be a need to refocus on neglected services like triple play and IPTV, and creation of applications and interactive online platforms. If the need for wireless broadband gets established, there is a huge market for WiMAX subscriptions in each of the 27 million households in Pakistan. In the cities of Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore and Rawalpindi alone, the addressable market hovers around eight million households. However, there are some limitations that may keep holding the operators back in the future. For one, operators are having hard time recovering their fixed costs (including device costs) as the customer churn rate is said to be too high. Moreover, expansion and QoS improvement require more spectrum, preferably in the 2.1GHz band. The existing spectrum in the 3.5GHz band - which provides good coverage but not higher internet speeds - is fragmented and getting crowded. To survive and grow, the WiMAX operators would have to look beyond plain vanilla broadband service, and add value to their offerings. More importantly, they need to create niches for themselves in areas where WiMAX can deliver, e.g. surveillance, mining, and transportation.


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