Telecommunication Industry in Sri Lanka


Sri Lnaka's telecommunication industry being completely state owned first began moves towards deregulation by the separation of the Policy and Business arms in 1992. The former, now the Telecommunications Authority of Sri Lanaka (TASL), is now a separate entity dealing with regulatory functions while the latter, now Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) is a public profit seeking company with 51% shares held by the state. In Sri Lanka, the number of private companies to provide various telecommunications services are rapidly increasing, especially under the Telecommunication Act 1991. As for May 1995, 18 private companies are providing their services under the following categories:

Cellular mobile telephone      4 
Paging service                 5 
Stired & forward fax services  2 
Data transmission              3 
Mobile radio trunking          1 
Payphone                       3

TASL has also licensed mobile voice commnucation to four major cellular telephone operators, namely, Celltel, Mobitel, CallLink and Dialogue. In additional Lanka Payphones and Metropolitan Communications have been licensed to provide voice via pay phone networks throughout Sri Lanka while Fentons Ltd. have been authorised to carry voice over a fixed wireless network. Ericksons project in Kandy is one of the many involved in upgrading switching facilities at various exchange. More recently, the TASL has made moves to further deregulate the industry by licensing a private operator, MTT, to lay fiber optic trunk route communication network throughout the country.

Data Communication Networks in Sri Lanka

Data communication service is provided by three operators; i.e. Sri Lanka Telecome (STL), Lanka Communication Services and Electrotek. DataPAC switching system, operated by STL, is situated in the SLT Headquarters buiding in Colombo. Its Datanetwork Identification Code (DNIC) is 4131. It was put into service on May 12, 1993. The DataNET operated by Lanka Communication Services is situated in Colombo. It has the Data Network Identification Code (DNIC) 4132 and was commissioned in 1993. The data communications network operated by Electotek has 4133 as its DNIC.

The DataPAC has 3 subscribers by means of dedicated lines and another 22 subscribers via public switched telephone network (PSTN). Those 22 subscribers are call dial-up line subscribers and three of them have dedicated telephone numbers to get access to the packet switch network. Majory of the subscribers are in Colombo, some in Katunayake and in Kandy.

The STL Public Switched Packet Data Network (PSPDN) makes use of ISO standrd X.25 Packet Switching technology. It supports internationally standardized communication protocols and allows computers and other data devices to communicate each other.

DataPAC PSPDN is connected to Gateway Packet Switch Service (GPSS) of Bombay, India, for providing international connectivity. Around 30 countries and 100 different public data networks are accessible via GPSS, India. DataPAC DNIC (4131) is located and validated to many international data networks to meet the present customer requirements.

In order to identify the organizations involved in the networking industry in Sri Lanka. They can be grouped as Data Carriers (DC), Service Providers (SP), Content Providers (CP) and Access Centres (AC).

Data Carriers (DC)

This category is reserved for those institutions with official authorization to hire out communications bandwidth either via land/sea lines, radio or satelite. It also owns satelite bandwidth via IntelSat, INMARSAT and other regional satelite and is the sole licensed operator for fixed voice communication in Sri Lanka. SLT have recenty begun marketing packet switched services under the trade name DataPac. SLT's services are in switched and leased voice circuits, national digital leased circuits up to 2 Mb/s, international leased circuits and national and international X.25 access. SLT's Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) also functions as the common fixed network for the private mobile telephone operators, and for dial up access for DataPac. More recently, however, there have been signs that this sector would be further deregulated and others given licences to operate major trunk route services.

The introduction of N-ISDN functionality by upgrading exchange will enable SLT to fully utilize high capacity lines by offering voice and other related value added services, conventional X.25 service and Internet services to user.

In addition to this, a trunk route cable supply and radio equipment agent, Protec Services (Pvt.) Ltd. was visited.

Service Providers

Other than the three radio and satelite access service providers mentioned above and SLTs own DataPac service, there are also a number of operators providing a range of different services based on data communications. Those identified were Infolabs, ToolNet, LEARN, ITMIN and CeyCOM.

The Sri Lanka Telecom-INTERNET started it's Internet Service providing facility in February, 1996.

Four private companies have been more recently received licences for data communication with the oldest of them, Electroteks, also granted a separate licence for carrying voice on data, which is form of voice mail, where compressed voice packets are transferred in store and forward manner. Of these four, Lanka Internet Service (LIS) became the first to provide on-line Internet access on a commericial basis in April, 1995. The other two operators are DataNet, Electrotec. The Infolab are also started providing internet access very recently. Infolab is a Web site which is operated as a Internet Club where subscriber can come and play their equipment as hourly bases.

Of the remainder identified in advance, CeyCOM and ITMIN are yet to begin full operations while ToolNet and Sri Lanka Academic and Research Network (LEARN) are currently extablished electronic mail networks serving academic and research interest.

The LEARN, which is used by three universities in Sri Lanka, will be connected from PSTN subscriber through an IP Router to the SLT data communication network. LEARN is a TCP/IP based electronic mail network among the univesities with a total of some 50 academic and research institute and non-profit organisations including NGO's among its clients. LEARN already uses Internet domain name addressing and has been allocated an official block of IP addresses. LEARN is supported by the University Grant Commission (UGC) and the Computer and Information Technology Council (CINTEC) of Sri Lanka.

The former based in the Arthur Clarke Centre for Modern Technologies (ACCMT) is a Fido based system served by the Tool Server in the Netherlands with gateway to other networks including the Internet.

Content Providers

A possible source is the ITMIN survay of some 30 content providers in Sri Lanka research and trade organisations. Some Sps can also be considered as possible access points to replicated content database local or foreign. For example, LEARN would maintain mirror archiving selected educational and research information; ITMIN, local commercial and trade information and Toolnet with access to appropriate technology, enviroment, agriculture and renewable energy data.

Access Centres

These are potential regional level infrastucture through which PAN would as a first step be able to support the concept of tele-centres. The University network, The NIE and local government organisations and the industrial Free Trade Zoons (FTZ) are some of the candidates for such minimal networked lab enviroments.

Although Sri Lanka has progressed steadily in the use of Information Technology, its utilization is still very much restricted to the city of Colombo except for some of the universities, which operate training laboratories. While eight traditional Universities at Colombo, Peradeniya, Sri Jayadardenepura (Nugegoda), Kelaniya, Moratuwa, Ruhuna, Eastern (Batticaloa) and Jaffna, and very recent decision taken by the government to converts all Affiliated University Collages (AUC) to the University level, the Anuradhapura and Sabaragamuwa and other AUCs affiliated to those two, together with the Open University have LANs and access to the LEARN Network.

Universities are undergraduate and postgraduate degree granting institutions free of charge by law, and mainly depend on funding by the University grants Commission and the External Resources Ministry.

In order to be able to provide regional level 'telecentres' with the necessary miniml level of networked equipment and personnel it would be essential for the institutional concerned to have a relatively well-established network of branches throughout the country. Other than the University network of eleven centres in the island, the National Institute of Education (NIE) will provide the largest spread of networked laboratories in Sri Lanka in the form of Regional Computer Resource Centres. According to the current plans there would be 300 centres schedule to be completed by the end of 1996.

New Projects

PAN-Sri Lanka Project

Early 1995, the Asia Regional Office of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Singapore launched a new computer-based communication and research network for Asia. The network was termed the PAN-Asia Network Program. Worldview International Foundation (WIF) was asked by IDRC to by the end of 1995, submit a project proposal for PAN networked in Sri Lanka. Vietnam and Mongoliya have already abtained their funding and are currently building up their national PAN network. Laos, Nepal and Bangladesh will follows.

PAN is linked to internet. This enable PAN users to link up with researchers and practitioners from international research and development institutions. The project proposal was submitted and accepted. The project was regitrated as company to allow for the provision of Internet services to the research and development community. Partners in the new company are IDRC, WIF and Computing Services Centre (CSC) of the Institute of Computer Technology, University of Colombo.

Future Plans

The Sri Lanka telecommunication industry seems to be at a watershed right now. The privatization of SLT and the new licensing of private operaters on trunk routes could drastically change the entire networking and data communication infrastructure in the country. For example, with regard to SLT the PSTN will cover all vilages by year 2000, leased circuits and mobile coverage, email and data communication will extend to all major cities and other value added services such as video text, teleconferrencing and N-ISDN services will operate in Colombo by year 2000. Since only recently begun, MTT's plans for extending their fiber optic backbone network is not availale. This may operate in direct competition with SLT offering value added broadband ISDN services.

Together with this, the intention of most current service providers to offer direct Internet or gateway access to Internt, could see Sri Lanka finally join the Information Superhighway in a major capacity. Already at least Lanka Internet Services and LEARN have concrete plans to introduce advanced Internet services such as Web servers (a multimedia networking tools), Mirror Archives (reduced cost databae access) as well as supporing the worlds lasrgest bulleting board, USENET News consisting of thousand of news groups to whith uses can subscribe, which covey timely information on any subject. The recent experiences in BBS are not entirely well received and uses must be warned of information glue as well.

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