Interview: Haji Sairul Rhymin CA Mohamed
How do you expect the local market to react to the introduction of 4G technology in 2013?
HAJI SAIRUL RHYMIN CA MOHAMED: The growth of 4G and long-term evolution (LTE) technology has been tremendous, spurred by rising demand of mobile services for access to the media in the cloud, especially through social media. This is coupled with the fact that the mobile broadband connectivity of personal devices is improving rapidly. At this stage, the main challenge that consumers and providers face is the availability of devices.
There has been a clear rise of smartphones on the market, as people want to connect to the internet, and voice and SMS usage has dropped significantly. Everyone is talking about services in the cloud, which require reliable internet access. Bruneians are generally tech-savvy, but there are few devices that are 4G-ready, meaning costs will remain considerably high. In reality people, many of whom are cost-conscious, will connect their device more readily with wi-fi hotspots than 4G. For a mobile operator, deployment of 4G services needs to be cost effective, especially since the market is still small. For TelBru, we see 4G as complementary to our fixed broadband services.
In what way will regional cooperation support the development of domestic mobile services?
SAIRULRHYMIN: Though TelBru does not operate any mobile telephony service, we feel that many things can be done in the field of roaming agreements. Previously, for example, bilateral agreements were negotiated between companies, not at the governmental level. As of late, nations have seen the benefits of coming in and intervening to promote the use of mobile data, and what we see as a result is a lot more bilateral national agreements. Brunei Darussalam inked a deal in the summer of 2012 with Singapore to reduce roaming charges bilaterally, which will help customers to use data services worry-free. Regional cooperation is also very important when it comes to content, such as online television, music, social media and more.
For a relatively small market like Brunei Darussalam, the minimum guarantees placed by content providers, which may limit the internet protocol television offering. With regional cooperation, however, we expect that content rights could be made available more cheaply to smaller economies. Cooperation will also help reduce the cost of devices for our customers. Countries like Malaysia and Singapore have millions of consumers, and working with them or aligning with regional norms could help bring down device costs.
Beyond the Future Fund, what else is available to help boost entrepreneurship?
SAIRUL RHYMIN: Regarding funding start-ups, their success depends partly on how the incubatees and entrepreneurs are responding. iCentre has been very active in this area and is developing all the key ideas in innovation. The process of moving from innovation to commercialisation is similarly crucial, and here the Brunei Economic Development Board has been working through its iCentre initiative to develop an effective mechanism. Much opportunities exists in the years to come with the progressive rollout of high-speed broadband. Ideas are flowing from our budding entrepreneurs. TelBru sees that working in collaboration with iCentre and BEDB is a very sound approach.
To what extent has the Asia-American Gateway (AAG) cable improved connectivity for local businesses and home users?
SAIRUL RHYMIN: More than 90% of the bandwidth goes upstream, so there is a need to have reliable international connectivity from submarine cables. The AAG was commissioned in 2009 and carries approximately 25% of our internet traffic. This was the first time the country managed to have a direct link to the US, which gave us lower latency and consequently made for better service quality. Bandwidth also became increasingly cost effective per megabyte. It provides a diversity route for our international connectivity.
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