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A Taste of Telecom Diversity

vietnam_map.gifThis week’s post is about a fascinating trip I’ve been on in Asia these last couple of weeks -- visiting Indonesia, Vietnam, India & Thailand. Each of these countries is going through tremendous transformation and the network infrastructure is key to them propelling themselves to a much stronger position in the world. The state of the telecom infrastructure for each of these countries could be topics of a blog or book, so let me focus this post on Vietnam. Getting off the plane in Hanoi reminded me of my first visit to Beijing in 1996 -- the airport, the officials, the process all seemed to be similar to what I recall in my first visit to China. Leaving the airport in the taxi, I suddenly felt that I had arrived in Bangalore -- small streets that are packed with cars, motorcycles, scooters and other transports. The ride from the airport to the hotel took about 1.5 hours in which I had time to ponder the current state of local economy, telecom market and infrastructure in Vietnam.Vietnam has a population of over 80million, has 61 provinces and 3 major cities. The local economy is healthy and there is a large and growing presence of multinational companies investing heavily locally in manufacturing plants -- companies ranging from Canon to Intel are investing heavily. The few local hotels are overbooked and overcrowded with business travelers flocking to be part of the country’s growth. In terms of telecom, the market is fairly deregulated. There are a number of Service Providers (wireline and mobile combined). The latest estimates indicate 10M fixed line subscribers, 25M mobile subscribers and only 1M internet subscribers. Of the service providers, 4 to 6 are planning or already offering triple play services and in addition there are 6 mobile operators (3 GSM & 3 CDMA)-.and a 7th license was announced the day I arrived. As in most of the other south Asian countries, majority of the mobile subscribers are prepaid and the ARPUs are extremely low ($4-$6USD/month). vietnam_telecom_vertical.jpgAs if this was not fascinating enough for the commute to the hotel, I was intrigued by the sights I saw. No, it was not any historical monuments or landmarks, it was the local infrastructure -- the streets, the houses and most of all the cables hanging on the poles alongside each road in the city of Hanoi. I found myself so fascinated that I had to stop the driver and get my camera out of my bag to take pictures. For the next 36 hours I took numerous pictures to share with colleagues and friends-.and post on my blog. I was surprised at the wiring centers on the poles that had cable television, copper telephony and likely even fiber running in mass alongside the road. Each street intersection was like a wiring center and all along the roadways, there were cables crossing the street overhead every few feet. There were cables running through the trees and around the trees. I know what you are thinking and yes I thought of it too-.why not look at wireless to solve this problem? Of course that is a great option but given the buildings/homes are built with concrete there’s likely going to be in building/home coverage issues. Actually speaking of homes, check out the picture of a typical home….clearly land is extremely precious and expensive and the only way to scale is up…so a house typically has a few feet frontage and deep and tall…I mean 4 to 6 stories tall. DSCN0047.JPGWhile all of these are solvable, imagine the wonderful opportunity of modernizing this infrastructure and there’s clear motivation from the local operators and regulators to make this happen and happen fast. Well, I am off to the next city now but have a long commute to the airport in Bangalore and can’t wait to find more interesting things I can share with you.

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