Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Reaching for the stars: Sri Lanka launches space programme – DG TRC Two common telecommunication towers on the drawing board

By Devan Daniel

The government has begun work on a space programme hoping to launch two communication satellites, the Director General of the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC) of Sri Lanka Priyantha Kariyapperuma said.

"The University of Surrey specializes in satellite technology having created about 35 satellites. They have made a presentation to President Mahinda Rajapakse and have entered into an agreement to transfer technology and knowledge to our universities," he told the Island Financial Review.

Kariyapperuma said a consortium of vice chancellors from universities with an engineering faculty has been formed for this purpose.

"We are looking at launching two communication satellites. One is a lower earth orbit satellite used mainly for images. The other project would be to launch a geo stationary communication satellite. Both these projects will run simultaneously," he said.

The two satellites will be used not only for communication purposes but also for disaster management, agriculture planning, irrigation planning, town/urban planning and coastal conservation.

"We hope to embark on these two projects by this year. However, the focus of the government right now is to stabilize the North and East so we have not worked out a tentative schedule as yet," Kariyapperuma said.

He said the low earth orbiting satellite could be financed with domestic funds particularly from the Telecommunication Development Fund. The private sector will also be called to contribute to the development of the two satellites.

Back on earth…

The Telecommunication Development Fund was established in 2003 financed by ITO levies (taxes on international telecommunication). The fund has been used to encourage telecommunication operators to venture into unconnected areas in the country by reimbursing infrastructure expenditures.

"All the operators have moved into the East and they will soon enter the North as well and the fund will be used to encourage them to do so," Kariyapperuma said.

The TRC plans to build two communication towers to be shared by telecommunication operators with finances from the fund.

A US$ 60 million tower is to be built in Peliyagoda, in the suburbs of Colombo, which will include a rotating platform for a restaurant.

The other tower is to be built in Kokkuvil, Jaffna.

"It would not be as sophisticated as the one in Peliyagoda but it will serve its purpose. We are in the process of preparing estimates for this tower and will go a long way in taking ICT to the North and East," Kariyapperuma said.


Improving Sri Lanka’s IT literacy is the biggest challenge as far as the TRC is concerned.

Kariyapperuma said the computer manufacturers must be attracted to assemble their products here in Sri Lanka.

"This is something we must seriously look at because our IT literacy is very poor. We have about 3.5 million school children but only 60,000 computers in the school network. The private sector should be encouraged to make investments to produce low cost computers and not only will our children have better access to computers but we could export computers to the region," Kariyapperuma said.


Kariyapperuma said the mobile telecommunication sector has little room for new players.

"I think we have the right number of players. There is room for them to expand and improve their services. Sri Lanka can do with more data communication service providers," he said.

Success story…

The country’s mobile telecommunication sector is success story where competition has made mobile telecommunication affordable. The Penetration rate is about 54.6 percent.

The TRC regulates the industry and each individual mobile telecommunication company has to have its tariff approved by the TRC.

"We also handle complaints but because of the stiff competition the operators sort most of them at their end," Kariyapperuma said.

He said with ever changing technologies Sri Lanka needs to formulate new legislation and communication policies.

"Sri Lanka’s ICT standards are ahead of most developing countries. We are on a 3.5G network moving into a 4G network and India is still moving into 3G," Kariyapperuma said.

In recognition of Sri Lanka’s strides in this area, Kariyapperuma was appointed the Vice Chairman of the Commonwealth Telecommunication Organisation. Sri Lanka also chaired the World Telecommunication Policy Forum in Lisbon Portugal last May.

An international forum, Next Generation Network Forum was also held in Colombo last month.