KBZ CIO talks connectivity

Myanmar’s mobile rollout has connected millions to the internet for the first time – but it has not been without growing pains, especially in the form of outages and sometimes spotty service.

Stephane Lamoureux, chief executive officer of KBZ Gateway, spoke to The Myanmar Times about the physical and regulatory challenges facing the country’s telecoms industry, as well as the benefits a boom in bandwidth should bring customers.

KBZ Gateway aims to offer public and private sector customers better and faster connectivity – partnering with Asia Satellite Telecommunications (AsiaSat) and US-based Hughes Network Systems for a satellite network.

Mr Lamoureux said that meanwhile, at a higher level, the telecoms sector is still figuring out its direction.

“There’s a lack of clarity on exactly where [the industry] is going and how fast we need to get there,” he said.

On the policy front, the issue is speed and transparency, Mr Lamoureux said.

New telecoms regulations and the issue of licences take a long time. “If [this] was sped up and a lot simpler, [companies] could do a lot more and we could probably get outside investors into the country,” he said.

Mr Lamoureux points to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology’s planned auction of 140MHz of spectrum in the 2600MHz band, announced in February and scheduled for March.

But industry suggestions sought by the ministry drummed up a range of opposing views, and the auction never appeared.

Multinational mobile operators Telenor and Ooredoo had earlier expressed desire for a spectrum roadmap before more spectrum is auctioned.

Mr Lamoureux said there was a need to work with the Myanmar Investment Commission and the Telecommunications Department to speed up new regulations and provide more transparency on industry roadmaps.

“At the end of the day, if you have a clear roadmap and you know where you’re going it’s a lot easier to get there,” he said.

Another roadblock to progress is purely physical. Fibre is being deployed across Myanmar, but it’s not financial viable for it to reach across the entire country, said Mr Lamoureux.

This means relying on VSAT – a system that uses a two-way satellite ground station – and on mobile connections from tower networks, he said.

Myanmar needs perhaps another 15,000 to 20,000 towers for operators to provide coverage, he added.

KBZ Gateway is using VSAT for its upcoming satellite-based network, and the system involves a Bago ground station that is going through testing and should be available for customers in the third quarter of this year, Mr Lamoureux said.

VSAT is widely used in the US and elsewhere, but Mr Lamoureux is hoping KBZ Gateway can “transform” how the technology is seen in Myanmar.

“We need to almost renew the reputation of VSAT in the country,” he said. “Up until now the quality hasn’t been there, costs [for consumers] are fairly high and stability [has been poor].”

This has contributed to a bad reputation, but KBZ Gateway has gone with the best available VSAT technology and made sure it has a “roadmap” for using the next generation of satellites, he said.

Deploying VSAT requires a lot of upfront capital expenditure, not just on construction of physical antennae but also importing international talent to help build local skills, Mr Lamoureux said. But together with mobile tower networks it will be the only way for services like mobile banking and online education to reach remote areas, he said.

KBZ Gateway is facing little in the way of competition for the services that it plans to offer, “but it’s buiding up”, Mr Lamoureux said. More competition will help increase the quality of services consumers receive, and in time reduce costs, he added.

“VSAT is still very expensive, [as is] fibre connectivity,” he said.

More bandwidth will also put downward pressure on prices, and two new deep-sea cables should help deliver the necessary increase.

Campana Group, based in Singapore with a Yangon subsidiary, is building a 1600 kilometre (1000-mile) submarine cable system, which will link Myanmar to Malaysia and Thailand, with connections to Singapore and Hong Kong.

Myanmar will also receive a boost to connectivity from the Asia-Africa-Europe-1 cable, which is being built by a consortium of 17 carriers and will connect countries across the three continents.

 

Source: Myanmar Times

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