Sri Lanka’s Hutch Telecommunications Lanka (Hutch) has completed its island-wide deployment of 4G services, blanketing 90% of the population in the process, and successfully merged the 2G and 3G networks of Hutch and Etisalat Lanka this month, following investment of over USD100 million. Hutch, which concluded a merger with Etisalat in May last year following the April 2019 announcement that its owner – CK Hutchison – had agreed a deal with Abu Dhabi-based Etisalat Group to merge the two operators, now plans to invest USD200 million on the next three years for network expansion. Chief executive officer Thirukumar Nadarasa said: ‘We can compete on an equal footing and on an equal coverage with our two main [rivals]. 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.’
The enlarged cellco’s new 4G infrastructure covers all 25 administrative districts of Sri Lanka, including over 300 divisional secretariats and more than 12,000 Grama Niladhari (village) areas. Hutch CTO Dhana Ponnamperuma told reporters that the operator was able to extend its 4G mobile broadband connectivity to rural areas by using the 900MHz band – again, largely as a result of the merger with Etisalat. The official said the takeover allowed it to ‘more than double its coverage in Colombo and its suburbs to 581 sites from 270 sites’. Meanwhile, Nadarasa confirmed that it is now in the position to bring to market a new range of voice, data and other services, and that for the first time in its 20-year history in Sri Lanka, it has introduced a range of post-paid packages.
In a related development, Hutch now plans to conduct a fully-fledged 5G trial within the next three months after securing a licence from the regulator, the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL), last week. China’s ZTE will work with Hutch as technology partner in the trial, although Nadarasa said that the cellco has no immediate plans to launch 5G in the country. ‘There’s lot of industry hype on 5G; it’s a hot buzz word. However, today, 50% of the people in the country don’t even have a smartphone. This is the problem,’ he said, adding: ‘I think there are more fundamental issues in the country that we as mobile operators need to address before we get to 5G.’ Nonetheless, Hutch will launch fifth-generation services when demand emerges. ‘The question is what we can do with 5G that we cannot achieve with 4G. About 98% 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 explained. ‘Also one less than 50% of the population have smartphones and they don’t see an urgent need to deploy 5G in Sri Lanka.’