Hutch completes 4G rollout covering 90% of population

  • Says geared to give good fight to the two main mobile operators 
  • Invests US$ 100 mn for 4G rollout and merging of 2G and 3G networks
  • Says offering more choice to Sri Lankan telecommunication market
  •  Parent ready to invest further US$ 200mn to improve coverage 
  • Eyes corporate customers; introduces post-paid packages for first time 

By Nishel Fernando
Hutch Telecommunications Lanka (Pvt.) Ltd, the third largest telco in the country, which has completed its island wide 4G rollout covering 90 percent of the population, says it is geared to compete with the two main mobile operators in the country on an equal footing, offering alternative choice to Sri Lankan consumers while catering to the new customer segments.  

Hutch completed its island wide 4G rollout and merging of 2G and 3G networks of Hutch and Etisalat this month with an investment of over US$100 million.

“We can compete on an equal footing and on an equal coverage with our two main operators. People in Sri Lanka need choice; I believe that Hutch would offer the choice to consumers who didn’t earlier have a true choice. “They can choose what service or product they want to use and we are quite happy to offer more choice to the market,” Hutch Telecommunications Lanka (Pvt) Ltd CEO Thirukumar Nadarasa told reporters in Colombo yesterday. 

Hutch’s newly deployed 4G network covers all 25 districts, over 300 divisional secretariats and over 12,000 Grama Niladhari areas. 

Hutch Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Dhana Ponnamperuma noted that Hutch was able to extend its internet connectivity to rural areas with 4G on 900MHZ band as a result of the merger between Hutch and Etisalat in late 2018.

He said Hutch was able to more than double its coverage in Colombo and its suburbs to 581 sites from 270 sites. 

Nadarasa noted that Hutch’s parent, Hong Kong-based CK Hutchison Group, is willing to provide funds worth US$ 200 million to further improve the network coverage next few years. Following the 4G rollout, Hutch has introduced to the market a new product range across voice, data and other services targeting specific customer segments. 

In particular, Hutch has also launched post-paid packages for consumers for the first time in its 20 year-presence in the island nation. 

Nadarasa announced that Hutch is expanding its focus to include post-paid customers and corporate customers by offering affordable products to the market in a transparent manner. 

“Over the last decade or so, there was no proper alternative or choice given to these segments. Hutch has finally arrived to provide that alternative to consumers. 

“Even though people were unhappy with their service provider, up until now, there was no choice. We are going to give a choice to customers,” he stressed. 

While claiming the top position in secondary SIM market in the country, Nadarasa said Hutch is positioned to convert these customers to choose Hutch as their primary SIM. 
“It might take 1-2 years for people to test our network to converge and become comfortable,” he said.

Further, he was also very confident that a considerable number of consumers who are unsatisfied with the top two mobile operators would switch to Hutch. 

However, he noted that there’s room for all the mobile operators to cater to the rising demand. 

“Demand for data will grow exponentially. We should worry about how we handle the traffic, not so much about competing. As 4G handset charges come down, more and more people will embrace 4G,” he said. 

Further, he believes that the recently granted tax cuts would also lead to a high usage of data. 

Commenting on the competition among mobile operators in Sri Lanka who offer high-speed internet, Nadarasa said the hype about speed is misleading consumers.

“High-speed internet that mobile operators are bragging about is on an empty network, but in reality, the network is shared by many and average speeds go down. What we focus on is, what the application the consumer uses, and we will make sure that we would provide sufficient speed for that application,” he said.

He also pointed out that high-speed internet also comes at a cost for consumers.

“When you are on maximum speed with a data quota, it disappears quite fast. This is one of the biggest complains of consumers. That’s why we don’t burden you with excess speed,” he stressed.

Therefore, he urged the mobile operators to be more transparent with such matters with the public.  Hutch had nearly six million mobile subscribers at end-2018.

To conduct fully-fledged 5G trial

Hutch Telecommunications Lanka (Pvt.) Ltd plans to conduct a fully-fledged 5G trial within next three months after securing the licence from the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) last week. 

According to Hutch Telecommunications Lanka (Pvt.) Ltd CEO Thirukumar Nadarasa, the firm has chosen China’s ZTE Corporation as the technology partner for the trial. 

However, Nadarasa noted that the firm doesn’t have immediate plans to launch 5G in Sri Lanka.

“There’s lot of industry hype on 5G; it’s a hot buzz word. However, today, 50 percent of the people in the country don’t even have a smartphone. This is the problem. 

There are people with 4G handsets who don’t want to move to 4G.  I think there are more fundamental issues in the country that we as mobile operators need to address before we get to 5G,” Nadarasa said.

He stressed that Hutch will launch 5G in Sri Lanka when actual demand emerges. 

“The question is what we can do with 5G that we cannot achieve with 4G. About 98 percent of what we want to do including e-commerce and e-government can be executed with 4G.  We don’t need 5G to execute this. There are a few and limited applications such as driverless cars, remote surgeries for which we need 5G,” he added.

Sri Lanka’s top two mobile operators have already conducted successful 5G trials. 

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