ACS hires new CEO to address ananda’s teething problems

Ananda, Myanmar’s first 4G+ wireless broadband data-only service, hasn’t gotten off to a very good start. In rushing to deliver its promise of unlimited Internet access, ananda has on the other hand drawn numerous complaints related to slow broadband speeds and poor network coverage since its debut in Yangon in May.

This month, Amara Communications (ACS), which operates ananda, introduced a new CEO to whom the task of fixing ananda’s problems has now been entrusted. Alan Sinfield has been involved in the telecommunications sector for the past 20 years, during which he executed projects in 49 countries and launched a total of seven start-ups, including a data provider in Cambodia before accepting his current role in Myanmar.

“I was brought in to get the company into a position from which it can take advantage of its infrastructure, licenses and services and start to grow exponentially within the next 12-18 months,” Mr Sinfield told The Myanmar Times during an interview.

Over the next 6-9 months though, Mr Sinfield’s will focus on fixing the issues users of ananda are facing. “A small percentage of ananda’s 45,000-odd customers say the service is too slow, while others complain about difficulties getting connected to the mobile broadband. Some also say access to some platforms such as Facebook is slow, ”Mr Sinfield said.

Ananda is currently the first and only 4G+ wireless broadband data-only service provider in Myanmar. To access the service, customers were given a plug and play MiFi device, which is a small wireless router that functions as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, free of charge during the first month of ananda’s launch. Now, customers have to pay K30,000 for the device and K35,000 for unlimited data.

ACS launched the service in Sinfield, two years after it was given the license to operate its service on a 2,600 MHz spectrum, which is the highest frequency awarded to a telecommunications services operator by the government so far.

At that frequency, consumers should have been able to enjoy unlimited, uninterrupted high-speed access to the internet, Ma Aye Mya Mya Kyi, deputy CEO of ACS, told The Myanmar Times in March.

Teething problems

So why are the problems occurring? The way Mr Sinfield tells it, “with everyone taking us at our word for unlimited coverage, we had a massive sign-up rate for ananda. However, in rushing to deliver as promised, we were under great pressure to build the infrastructure and adopt policies as quickly as possible just to launch the service. As a result, ananda was not able to come to market with the depth of coverage and size of network that it wanted.”

Due to delays clearing government regulations, ananda had just 400 network towers providing coverage in Yangon at the time of its launch. Its initial target was 500. Because of its high frequency spectrum, coverage is narrower compared to lower frequencies, so more towers are needed to provide continuous connection.

One of Mr Sinfield’s biggest problems now is controlling usage. “Ananda was launched as a consumer product not a business product. Yet, some of our biggest users have 5-6 MiFi devices constantly streaming movies which are transferred onto CDs and later sold,” he said.

These businesses, which form up to 20pc of ananda’s customer base, download as much as 100GB a day on a single MiFi. “That’s 6-7 times higher than what MPT or Telenor get on their networks. Still, we have told people that coverage is unlimited. The downside is some of our network sites are massively over-utilised, so average users are being impacted by those using ananda for business purposes,” Mr Sinfield said.

Action plan

While it won’t be easy for ACS to convince business users to switch from ananda to its much pricier broadband service catered for corporations, the good news is coverage is expected to improve as time goes by. For one thing, the company has already invested more than $100 million prior to the launch to get things started.

Meanwhile, another 25 sites, or towers, have gone on air in Yangon since the launch, taking the total number of sites now to 425. The company’s target is to launch 50-70 new sites per month, with a target of reaching 2500 sites over the next three years. “We need more sites across the region to carry the load,” Mr Sinfield said.

ACS will also increase its international bandwidth, for example to Singapore, which is where international fibre links to Facebook are hosted. “From a 3GB link for international bandwidth, we will soon have 20GB links to deliver the right speed to our customers. In the meantime, we are also building caching services to locally cache popular content, so users can access the content much faster.”

Still, the biggest problem for now will be clearing government regulations and red tape. “We already have all the equipment and infrastructure ready to deploy. But while the government has been a big supporter of our business, it will take time for us to rollout the sites,” Mr Sinfield said.

For now though, ananda is still the only service providing unlimited data in the market. And at the current level, mobile data provided by other telcos such as Telenor is at least twice expensive compared to what users must pay for ananda’s top-up plan, according to ACS’ estimates.

“So despite the slower speeds during peak hours and irregularity of coverage now, ananda is still cheaper than other providers. More importantly, things will get better as we rollout more sites in the future,” Mr Sinfield said.

Source: Myanmar Times

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