“Our aim is to provide a better 4G experience” – Thirukumar Nadarasa, HUTCH CEO
With the completion of its bigger and better island wide 4G network in February this year, HUTCH is on course to enhance its brand presence and further establish itself as one of Sri Lanka’s premier telco operators with its larger 2G, 3G and 4G network coverage and the widest range of innovative products that appeal to a cross section of consumers across all walks of life.
The merger of Etisalat last year has resulted in a visible resurgence and conveys that the local subsidiary of Hong Kong based CK Hutchison Holdingsremains buoyant and committed to the island nation.
Hutchison Telecommunications Lanka (Pvt) Ltd. operating under the brand name “HUTCH” continues to disrupt the telco industry by going that extra yard offering real solutions to real problems that customers face in their daily lives.
In that background, following are excerpts of an interview conducted with Thirukumar Nadarasa, Chief Executive Officer of HUTCH where he describes the company’s island wide network expansion and how they help deliver the best mobile experience to its customers.
Q. How has the HUTCH network coverage expanded post–Etisalat merger and new investments?
A. This merger opportunity gave HUTCH access overnight to a much larger network infrastructure in terms of both coverage and capacity. This allowed us to reach out to the full potential customer base that we were unable to reach out before, and it allowed us to serve a data hungry population looking for a brand that understands their needs and works for them.
Our highly energized and committed engineers and technical support staff worked around the clock to not only merge both 2G and 3G networks, but also to add on top, an advanced 4G network and we were able to complete this mammoth task in just over 12 months. The merger enabled us to integrate the existing network resources of Etisalat to deploy new 4G coverage on 2000+ towers across the island that instantly covered 90%+ of the population.
Even though 4G has been around in Sri Lanka since 2014, mass adoption of 4G has not yet occurred with only 40% of mobile subscribers on 4G networks today. There were multiple reasons for this slow uptake including expensive 4G handsets and perceived high cost of using 4G services. With the recent proliferation of more affordable 4G handsets, our mission is to provide digital inclusivity to customers from every walk of life and to bring an affordable 4G broadband experience across the entire country.
Q. Why is HUTCH 4G a Better Experience?
A. An advantage of coming to the market later is that HUTCH can deploy the latest and most advanced 4G technology into the country. Apart from the expanded coverage, HUTCH has deployed the most advanced core networks and billing systems. This means that the quality of the service will be much higher, supporting the ever-increasing data consumption needs. Also almost the entire HUTCH mobile network including 2G and 3G networks has been modernized as part of the merger enabling HUTCH to deliver a better quality service.
As we will also appreciate, as technology like 4G establishes, it not only become more advanced but also equipment costs are lower, which means we can pass on the savings to the customer! So we can be more affordable.
Now our network is much larger than what it was a year ago and our coverage is much improved allowing us to provide customers not only a better 4G experience but also 2G and 3G experience across the country.
With the unprecedented growth in data especially during the COVID lockdown, we were fortunate that our network expansion was just completed and we were able to deliver a consistent and reliable experience to our customers with all of the above factors put together.
Q. You mentioned HUTCH’s data packages. What is unique about them and were any new products launched recently?
A. During the COVID – 19 period when the government decided to execute strict lockdown practices to curb the virus, HUTCH worked swiftly to accommodate changes to our product lines and pricing strategies making them more conducive to the Work from Home model. We introduced a “Freemium” offer through which we served over 1.2mn of our customers everyday offering free daily reloads for Voice, SMS and Data to keep them connected with their loved ones. This was especially important during curfew times as access to traditional reload outlets was restricted.
We are a working brand. We work hard for our customers and we listen to their grievances. We heard their pain with regards to ‘wasted Night time data quotas’. In the past, we helped to address this issue by extending the Night period up to 9AM every day, resulting in HUTCH subscribers being able to consume over 70% of their night quotas anyway. Then as a “first” in the market, HUTCH introduced 100% Any Time data packs with no night time restrictions at all.
We have introduced the extremely popular Unlimited YouTube pack for only Rs. 147 that is valid for a whole month! Recently we also introduced an Unlimited Facebook/Messenger/WhatsApp pack for only Rs. 124, which is also valid for full 30 days.
Our legendary cliQ product has proven to be highly popular but was previously only on the 3G network. We have now launched cliQ 4G on our new 4G network.
We also very recently launched a series of Data, Voice and Data bundle packs that for the first time in the market include quotas of off net minutes and anytime data.
Now with all prerequisites in place, we believe HUTCH is well positioned to address all segments of the market.
Q. How are customers responding to the new Bigger and Better HUTCH?
A. Consumer response to our Bigger and Better network and our great value for money products and service offerings has been tremendous from the day we re-launched our merged network. It is delightful to see more subscribers joining HUTCH every day. Our ever-growing subscriber base bears testimony to the fact that we have been successful in providing what the customers expect from a mobile network provider – an affordable, better mobile experience. We will continue to empathize with consumers and empower the nation with constant innovations that will make a real difference.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: At HUTCH, we always believe that technology is of little value if it can’t serve the real and present needs of the people. Our focus is to continue to always work towards making our services accessible and affordable to all citizens. With this in mind, the team at HUTCH will continue to focus on innovations that are meaningful to consumers, not mere marketing gimmicks.
Equally important is that, HUTCH will work hard to ensure the mobile experience is consistently delivered to all of its subscribers. This has been the major issue faced by almost all mobile networks across the world. As 3G and 4G broadband data networks addressed the huge data demand, the resultant increase in data traffic begins to deteriorate the data experience for all the data subscribers on the network. Just expanding network capacity alone is insufficient to address this issue and a more intelligent and comprehensive management process has been established by HUTCH to ensure all our data subscribers will continue to experience a consistent data experience in the future.
Q: What about your plans for 5G?
A: HUTCH Sri Lanka is part of the global CKH Group of companies including mobile operations across Europe and Asia which are already in the process of deploying 5G networks and services.HUTCH will continue to monitor the development of 5G across the world but will launch full scale 5G services here in Sri Lanka only when there is an established demand for a higher than existing 4G service.
At present, there is a big debate about the launch of 5G globally and locally. Even though there is much industry hype about 5G, sufficient user cases for 5G are yet to be identified to justify the huge additional investment into a 5G network. The question I always ask people is ‘please tell me what services you need today that cannot be addressed by an advanced 4G network and are those additional requirements sufficient to invest in and deploy a 5G network?
It’s again a question of affordability, when affordable 5G handsets will be available as well as affordable 5G specific applications. HUTCH’s parent Company has all the experience required to deploy 5G networks today but, we need to first see when the time is right for the Sri Lankan consumer. We shall certainly do it then. It is with utmost pleasure that I invite all mobile subscribers in Sri Lanka to try the HUTCH 4G experience for themselves and see if we are better able to fit their needs.