Interview: Pengiran Zain

How would you compare the maturity of the 4G LTE network with that of 3G technology?

PENGIRAN ZAIN: The telecommunications market is currently experiencing an exponential increase in the demand for faster mobile data connection speeds, driven by bandwidth-hungry video and mobile app content and made possible by the increasingly affordable 3G and 4G smartphones. The GSM Association reported that in 2014, mobile data traffic alone was nearly 30 times that of the entire internet in 2000.

In Brunei Darussalam, 4G subscriptions have been gaining momentum since the service’s recent introduction by DSTC om. However, it is important to note that there are differences in coverage levels in the 3G and 4G networks currently available in Brunei Darussalam. The 3G network, being the more mature and well-developed network, is readily available in more areas than the 4G network. Therefore, consumers have to factor in their mobility, preferred areas of coverage, willingness to purchase new 4G handsets and their minimum speed requirements when choosing whether to subscribe to a 3G or 4G network. As 4G network coverage continues to improve, and as the new technology matures, it is natural to anticipate the eventual migration of subscribers from the 3G network to the 4G network, and in turn to 5G when it becomes commercially available.

What impact do over-the-top (OTT) services have on the local telecoms industry?

ZAIN: The industry has seen a number of dynamic and fast-paced developments in new technologies and services. Telecommunications service operators today are facing demands from their customers to provide seamless and high-capacity data networks to cater for increasingly popular multimedia and messaging applications. These OTT services are channelled to users by “riding” on the telecoms operators’ networks and infrastructure, necessitating continuous capital investment but not contributing directly to the operators’ revenue streams except with data revenue. In 2015, the average internet data usage for fixed-line broadband subscriptions ranged from 112 GB for low-tier plans (1-5 Mbps) to 285 GB for mid-tier plans (10 Mbps) and 600 GB for high-tier plans (20-30 Mbps). The proliferation of OTT services has also caused severe congestion in the telecoms networks due to the ever-increasing demand for data.

What has been done to lower end-user prices, especially in terms of off-net rates?

ZAIN: Brunei Darussalam’s telecoms tariffs are fairly competitive compared to other markets in the region, especially considering the relatively high cost of living in the country. In addition, an economy of scale contributes to lower costs and in turn lower prices, with varying degrees of impact on big and small markets. A balance, therefore, has to be struck between gaining benefits through such economy of scale and the advantages of creating a competitive environment with multiple operators to encourage efficiency, productivity and creativity.

In addition to this “managed competition” philosophy, AITI has at its discretion a number of regulatory instruments that help to lower operating costs in the industry. For instance, AITI has been actively encouraging the sharing of infrastructure in order to avoid wasteful duplication of investment and capacity under-utilisation by facilitating transparent commercial and technical access to key infrastructures owned by facility licensees. Other strategies AITI have adopted include domestic roaming, number portability, the Universal Service Obligation Fund and the use of specific frequency spectrums for technical efficiency. On a micro-level, AITI has taken steps to establish a level playing field through directives such as the implementation of “sender keeps all” agreements and the recent abolition of incoming call charges.