The prime responsibility of a telecommunications service provider is to connect an entire nation. Kiththi Perera, the Chief Executive Officer of Sri Lanka Telecom PLC, believes that the organisation’s main objective for the year 2021 and the years to come would be to seamlessly connect Sri Lanka.

“The aim of any telecommunications service provider would be to initially connect the city and then the suburbs, however, minimal concentration has been placed on rural areas as the villages are largely dispersed and costly infrastructure is required. That is where the government introduced the ‘Gamata Sannivedanaya’ programme to connect the rural communities. We want to be active partners in that vision. We have already connected most dense residential areas and have an active plan to connect 2 Million households by 2023. SLT and Mobitel together will cover more than 95% of the country’s residential areas, therefore we believe that we will be able to overcome the challenge of connecting people, homes, schools, hospitals, SMEs, enterprises and government institutions. Accordingly, we need a well-connected society to overcome the digital divide. The opportunity I perceive for the organisation is to provide high-performance connectivity to the required, and simultaneously to provide reasonable broadband experience to the rural community and thus seamlessly connect the entire country.”

Kiththi further stated that the above mentioned will be supported and complemented by a well-structured strong digital drive to improve customer experience and introduce new digital platforms and applications, which will change the lifestyles of people.

“Apart from consumer applications, the government requires separate and purpose-built platforms to offer e-citizen services. SLT has already established the government network; we connected 862 government offices through our fibre network and are hoping to expand further to connect the rest of the government offices across the country. 

“We also need the support of partners in our ecosystem because digital transformation is a collaborative effort. There are local and global partners in this journey, and hence we need to have a right mix with a very strong proposition of what is relevant to the end customer while supporting and encouraging local partners to take part in this initiative. 

“This requires a large investment. The government is discussing as to what sort of relief can be given to operators. There is a reason why telecoms did not focus much on rural areas – while their average revenue per customer is low, the average cost to connect the customer is much higher. But SLT, as the national telecommunications service provider has done many expansions to rural areas. We laid fibre to each and every corner of the country. Right now, the challenge is to connect the very last mile customers in the form of fibre to home broadband service in urban, suburban and residential clusters and to set up a strong and widespread fibre backbone network to backhaul 4G and 5G traffic to rural villages.

“This is the fourth industrial revolution. As a country in this part of the world, particularly in Asia, our broadband penetration is slightly above 50% and hence we have a great opportunity to explore. Just imagine the opportunities! This is where SLT decided to explore the opportunities not only locally but globally as well.”

It’s quite evident that the COVID-19 pandemic will not end anytime soon. Therefore, SLT as the national telecommunications service provider, has a responsibility to continue to provide its services especially during lockdowns, where people expect to stay connected.

“We see this as a major opportunity when it comes to the Telecommunication business because we have a social responsibility as the national telecommunications provider to connect people.

“We have 5.4 Million households across the country and we have multiple strategies to connect these homes through our fibre network and the 4G and 5G wireless network as well, which we developed together with Mobitel, and with that we can overcome the challenge of connecting people.

“The opportunity here is that people started feeling the need for digital transformation and I see the pandemic as an opportunity for us to speed up the transformation. We remain committed as the national ICT solutions provider to play our role in this national cause.

Cloud computing has been in the forefront due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as many businesses are remotely proceeding with their work.

Speaking about SLT’s involvement in cloud computing, the CEO stated, “In 2016, we introduced a full-fledged cloud platform for the first time in Sri Lanka. Our cloud platform is called ‘akaza’, which signifies the sky in Sanskrit. Through this, we aimed at having a major focus on enterprise and the government. Enterprise customers largely invest in the server environments, storage environments, enhanced security platforms and the internal network. At that time, our focus was to introduce a full-fledged cloud platform from where they can obtain all those as a service, which was predominantly for enterprise and government in 2016. Now the situation has completely changed. 

“While enterprises, government and SME customers are also increasingly adapting to the cloud, they are not willing to invest in this expensive infrastructure. We have invested in five world-class data centres owned by SLT. Today, ‘akaza’ has been expanded to multiple technologies and is named ‘akaza multi-cloud’. 

“Cloud is taking a different dimension. Now we speak about digital applications as opposed to the cloud applications we discussed earlier. Cloud and digital now go hand-in-hand. The cloud infrastructure is a key enabler for digital transformation. Therefore, connectivity, data centre and cloud are key to establishing and driving the digital transformation of any country. SLT has invested enough in these areas. It is really for us to work together with the government to reap the benefits of this to society.”