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Melita eyes nation-wide Wi-Fi network

Melita’s chief operations officer Ludolf Rasterhoff with a chart of internet broadband speeds in Malta and Europe.

Melita’s chief operations officer Ludolf Rasterhoff with a chart of internet broadband speeds in Malta and Europe.

Melita is considering covering Malta with a seamless Wi-Fi network across all the territory so that internet users can benefit from the same speeds they have at home and enjoy their home broadband experience outdoors.

In an exclusive interview with i-Tech, Melita’s chief operations officer Ludolf Rasterhoff explained his company’s vision for high-speed broadband in Malta, which, according to an international study, directly supports economic growth.

“Melita is helping Malta achieve the EU Digital Agenda objectives and even the aspirations beyond that to become an information society. Malta’s objective is to become a smart island information society and to do that you need broadband. What Melita is doing now is really providing broadband everywhere at very attractive prices. In these times when the IMF and the rating agencies say that Malta has performed relatively well, economic growth is more important than ever and to get economic growth a good broadband infrastructure is very important,” he said.

Mr Rasterhoff was referring to a recent joint study by telecoms giant Ericsson, Arthur D. Little and Chalmers University of Technology in 33 OECD countries in the developed world, most of them in Europe. The study highlighted that increased internet broadband speed contributes significantly to economic growth. Doubling the broadband speed increases an economy’s GDP by 0.3 per cent. Positive effects come from automated and simplified processes, increased productivity as well as better access to basic services such as education and health.

In the short run, more jobs will be needed to create the new infrastructure, such as construction, telecommunications and electronics. Increased broadband speed will encourage new ways of doing business. This creates more advanced online services and new utility services, such as telecommuting and telepresence. Indirect effects include spillover effects from one sector to another and efficiency improvement in the economy, the study concluded.

Melita’s chief operations officer explained how his company is playing a significant role in providing broadband in Malta and he hopes this will have a positive effect on the economy as indicated by the study.

“We have hundreds of customers with the 100 megabit internet broadband connection which is our flagship product. Very rarely in Europe do you see operators offering such a speed and we are very happy with the take-up. Such an achievement requires a vision and a strong execution for many years. It all started with Melita’s huge investment in the undersea fibre-optic cable to Sicily, completed in 2009.

“In 2010 we did an extensive upgrade of the network, and last year we launched Docsis 3, the superior broadband technology. In the first quarter of this year we expect 80 per cent of our customers to have internet access of 15 megabits or more. Last year the majority of customers still had around five megabits of speed. Today Melita does not sell internet access with less than 15 megabits,” Mr Rasterhoff said.

The EU Digital Agenda has set ambitious the goal of having nationwide broadband speeds of 100 megabits in member states by 2020. Melita is already offering such a speed nationwide eight years ahead of the deadline. The EU average for internet broadband today is 13.4 megabits while Malta’s average is 15 megabits, according to Netindex.com.

“We are convinced broadband is the future for watching content and entertainment. Apart from the correlation of the GDP to broadband, it’s also very important for Malta as there are many foreign companies moving to Malta in the i-gaming and financial sectors. They expect to be connected to the rest of the world with good broadband conditions. E-commerce is also growing.”

However Melita seems to be taking a different path than other operators in Malta, inspired by the fact that Wi-Fi provides higher internet access speeds compared to 3G in mobile communications networks.

“People use their mobiles a lot at home and therefore Wi-Fi is very important. The speeds Wi-Fi can give you can go up to 100 megabits as well. We have conducted a test project in Paceville where we provide free internet access over Wi-Fi and therefore users don’t need 3G to connect to internet anymore and get more speed than traditional mobile networks. Melita’s current 3G network offers 3.6 megabits internet access, which can go up to much higher speeds through software upgrades.

“At this point in time we do not see Long Term Evolution (LTE) as the most suitable option for Melita given the fact that we really believe that by creating a seamless Wi-Fi network over the island we can give the customers the benefit of very high download speeds inside the house and outside. It’s only when they are in an area where this is not available that users will have to rely on 3G. Therefore the next evolution is taking the Wi-Fi speeds in households outdoors and making it seamless to clients. We see it a very good solution for Malta,” insisted Mr Rasterhoff.

The Malta Communications Authority has already taken the first steps towards the creation of a national framework that promotes high speed broadband in Malta. While Melita appreciates the work of the MCA, it thinks free market principles should rule.

“The market should do its work. I believe in the free market and competition and it should not be regulated unless an operator has significant market power. When Melita decided to have a vision to invest in broadband in the last five years, the competition decided not to invest in broadband but in other services. The fact that they are lagging behind now is the consequence of not investing in these services. In the rest of Europe you can see DSL providers with speeds of up to 40 or 50 megabits but not in Malta. If Malta ever really wants to be a smart island such speeds should also be available on DSL,” suggested Melita’s chief operations officer.

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