Interview with Mr. Wahaj us Siraj, Chief Executive of Micronet, the DSL provide and the first company to start optical fiber project in South Asia
Please tell us about your educational and professional background?
I am a mechanical engineer by profession. I joined University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Lahorefor my Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering.
I started my professional career with a job in the ‘Pakistan Council of Appropriate Technologies – Ministry of Science & Technology’ and worked for two years there until I was offered a scholarship to pursue a Masters degree in Engineering from The University of Melbourne, Australia. I rejoined the Ministry after completing my MS in 1990. During my job with the Government I got deputed to COMSATS as well. I also served the Ministry of Information Technology.
In 2001, I left the Government Service in order to enjoy the freedom of work. In 2004, Micronet was started.
What is the present situation of the telecom sector?
The government policies are not friendly. Telecom sector is subjected to heavy taxation. This year the Government reduced the tax percentage but it is still not reasonable. Electricity shortages lead to high costs in the telecom sector. This sector requires a 24 hour uninterrupted electricity supply. Due to constant load shedding, we have to use generators to run our operations which have increased the costs. They have also increased the petrol and diesel prices, so the electricity being used by the generators cost us more than before. Companies are spending huge amounts on generators and batteries to fulfill their electricity requirements.
What are the major threats for a company like yours?
The overall environment matters greatly in any business. Firstly, the entire law and order situation influences any kind of business. The intervention of a regulator in a sector is very important and plays a major role in creating potential in the sector. Protecting the rights of the licensees in the industry is also the job of the authority
In Pakistan, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) did not play the role according to the expectations of the private businesses. Unfortunately, PTA’s policies and working has a tilt towards large companies and do not favor the small companies. PTA is not maintaining a balance between small and large operators.
Your fiber optic project was the first one in South Asia. Tell us about the experience and the major difficulties you faced?
There were many technological and implementation challenges. It is difficult to build a physical line infrastructure as compared to wireless infrastructure. We have successfully completed it without having major affiliation with any other company. Our own skilled workforce completed the whole project.
It was a capital intensive project. Our quality standards are internationally recognized. The fiber optic project was a unique project indigenously designed, implemented with world class quality. We had foreign vendors with us during the project but the basic engineering and design had been done by Mirconet. This project was based on the same model which is being used in the western countries.
Physical wire line infrastructure is an important factor in a country’s economy as compared to wireless infrastructure. It can uplift the economy of a country. It helps in transferring of data, high bandwidth, video conferencing, good quality TV, more TV channels etc.
Why only Islamabad and Rawalpindi? Are you planning to expand?
We belong to Islamabad and have an emotional affiliation with this city. Moreover, we know this market well as we have worked here for years. In future, we do have plans to move to few other cities. We are waiting for the right time after this economic downturn and the law and order situation.
How do you see companies like wi-tribe and Wateen in the market?
They have a different market segment then our services. They are wireless companies having little impact on our DSL services. Being a wireless company, they have technological limitations. They hold a niche market with their own potential.
Regarding the Telecom sector, how do you compare Pakistan’s environment with other countries?
I can only compare Pakistan’s business environment with India,Nepal, Srilanka and Bangladesh’s telecom sector. In comparison,Pakistanis a much better country to do business with improved regulations. We are doing better in terms of regulatory environment and policies but I think there is still room for further improvement.
What suggestions would you like to give to government authorities to further improve their policy structure in the telecom division?
Government of Pakistan has been neglecting the telecom sector since the past two or three years. Despite this, there has been an exponential growth in this sector.
Unfortunately, we have no minister for the telecom industry from the previous one year which explains the negligence of the government in this sector. Recently, we had a meeting with the secretary of the telecom ministry, he seemed positive about the industry and we are hoping that he can resolve our issues with the government.
How will consumer behavior change in the coming years?
There will be more choices available for the consumer in this market. There are DSL, cable internet and fiber optics etc. Similarly in wireless technology, there will be more options but all these different technologies have their own niches.
Are you intending to move into any other technology in the future?
We might adopt new technologies in the wire line but we do not intend to go into wireless technology. We are a focused wired line company.
What advice would you like to give to new players entering in the market even with wireless technology?
The market is good for new entrepreneurs. They should invest but keep their focus on the quality of service, not on tariffs. We strongly believe in competition and think that larger the number of good operators in the market, stronger and more profitable the market will be. New comers should compete on quality of service rather than tariff and market dominance. There should be a healthy competition without having a dominant position in the market.