Berkshire, May 2000 - In 1999 Pakistan’s incumbent telco, Pakistan Telecommunications Company Limited (PTCL), announced that it would be awarding three licences to new carriers to enable expansion of international calls from the country. One of the successful applicants for a licence was Interconnect Pakistan (Pvt) Ltd. They have set up a prepaid calling card service, using an Intelligent Network platform from Redwood Technologies Limited.
Pakistan is a country with a population of 135.28 million, but only 2.47 million telephone connections. As in many developing countries, most phones are not enabled for international calling. The use of calling card provides a means by which calls can be made to a local number and then broken out internationally.
Geographical and technical conditions influenced the configuration of the platform. Firstly, the system had to be split over two locations in order to provide national coverage. The sites chosen were Islamabad in the North and Karachi in the South. These were then linked via a data network. Secondly, PTCL, the monopoly carrier, stipulated that signalling system number 7 (SS7) should be used for interconnection.
After completing testing, Interconnect Pakistan launched its service with a range of 150, 250, 500,1000, 2000 and 5000 Pak Rupees cards. These are co-branded with PTCL.
To use the service, a calling card customer dials an 800 number where they are greeted in either Urdu or English. Calls originating in the North of the country are routed to the Islamabad platform and calls originating in the South to Karachi. The platform uses a hybrid of edge-of-network and centralised IN techniques to verify caller information. This minimises traffic over the data network, for more efficient use of bandwidth. Four different tariffs run at different times of the day plus flexible tariffs when the Pakistan Government announces Public Holidays and Religious Festivals.
Interconnect Pakistan has recently doubled its capacity at both sites in order to handle the increased traffic and the architecture of the system allows it to be scalable through to 4,800 ports without incurring significant cost penalties at any point in the growth curve. As awareness of the service increases, a further expansion of the system is planned, which will incorporate Value Added Network Services, such as Unified Messaging, Personal Numbering and Audio Conferencing. These additional services can be run on a single platform, thus again reducing the cost penalty associated with development of this kind.
One niche market that has evolved is that expatriates are able to purchase the calling cards in Sterling in the UK. They then convey the account and PIN number to their relatives in Pakistan and it becomes easier for friends and families to stay in touch.
The service has also proved extremely popular with many small businesses. Historically they have been reluctant to have International Direct Dial (IDD) because of the possible risk of unauthorised use. The prepaid calling card service reduces the risk of such fraud, while allowing them to participate and compete on a level playing field with larger companies in today’s global market. Particularly since the widespread increase in the use of the Internet as a business tool, the barriers preventing companies conducting business across international borders are being broken down. It is increasingly important that developing countries are able to keep up with the changes in the market and are not allowed to fall further behind due to lack of access to international phone calls.
Interestingly, Interconnect Pakistan’s call rates are the same as those of PTCL, so the service does not differentiate on price, but rather on offering easier access to international telephone calls, whether for business use or personal communication. The key to the company’s success has been to provide stronger service rather than lower prices.