In the third week of March, the British International Investment (BII) and Dolma Impact Fund announced a combined funding of Rs 1.98bn to WorldLink Communications Ltd in their series B investment. WorldLink, which had already received Rs 1.35bn in investment from BII in October 2019, has been focusing on expanding its network coverage across Nepal. ApEx talked to the company’s CEO Keshav Nepal to know about the current focuses of WorldLink and its future plans. Excerpts:
How is WorldLink Communications utilizing the Rs 1.98bn funding from the British International Investment (BII) and Dolma Impact Fund? What areas the company is focusing on with the investment?
The business model of an internet service provider (ISP) is more focused on capital expenditure, and money is spent mostly on network expansion and consumer equipment like router setup boxes that are offered for a deposit of just Rs 500 while the ultimate cost can come around Rs 8,000 in whole. So, we are spending the funds on capital expenditure. In Nepal, ISPs are more than plentiful in urban areas, but few only in rural areas. Our current focus is on increasing capital expenditure in rural areas than in urban areas.
How do you see the evolution in the internet connectivity landscape in Nepal?
According to official statistics, there are roughly 6.6m households in Nepal, and around 92 percent of them are electrified which is high for a developing nation.
Smartphone penetration is equal to the literacy rate which is around 76 percent of the population. This suggests that those who can read and write use smartphones and the internet more frequently.
I don’t see any affordability issues currently because, in Nepali households, there is also a sharing culture on the internet. For Rs 1,000 worth of monthly internet subscriptions, the customer shares the Wi-Fi network with their neighbors. And ultimately, the cost comes to around Rs 100 per person per month, which is affordable as it also avoids the cost of mobile data payments, meet-up transportation costs, and more.
If we compare the census data from 2011 to 2021 for internet usage from fixed broadband, we can notice a substantial increase in connectivity and development over the course of the decade, from three percent of total households to 38 percent. So, this evolution has been great.
ISPs in Nepal reported massive growth in business after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. How is the business growth of WorldLink?
Although online and digital communication was fairly prevalent in Nepal during Covid-19, I don’t believe the pandemic had a major impact on the expansion of WorldLink. WorldLink is a premium brand compared to other companies. Therefore, those who could afford it had already subscribed. Those who were in a dilemma if they should subscribe or not were among the new subscribers during the pandemic.
As we’ve expanded our services to rural areas in the past couple of years, we have been growing to around 175,000 customers per year; it was around 100,000 per year before and during the pandemic.
Tell us about the company’s presence in Nepal.
Now, there are almost 800,000 households who are subscribed to WorldLink. Out of 6,743 wards in the country, we are present in about 3,000. WorldLink envisages expanding services to every ward in Nepal.
How will internet business in Nepal evolve in the coming days as ISPs are now competing to give larger speed internet services?
The new companies are attempting to reduce the price and get a larger market share through a marketing gimmick. However, the expense of the business will eventually increase, causing the price to go up. Because the business can’t sustain with very low rates. I think internet business leans toward when the affordable rate meets with the highest quality. There could be a variety of challenges customers can come through including latency (ping), fluctuations in connectivity, and router problems and I think addressing these issues and providing better experiences to customers will determine the caliber of internet business.
What new areas in internet services WorldLink is planning to get into to keep up with the changes?
For the past two years, we have developed a relatively straightforward approach to improve the quality of the experience in serviced areas and to build internet connectivity in areas lacking services. Our internet data reveals that WorldLink’s service has significantly improved in this context.
We follow up on complaints that have been resolved, and our business ensures that issues are settled within two hours. We are making work toward a quick solution and aim to lower the time from two hours to half an hour.
We keep track of each complaint for better further services. Due to its large range and two modes of connection, the WorldLink network in Kathmandu does not frequently go down. Our main focus is on providing high-quality service to the customers.
Your company has recently tied up with the video game PUBG to provide a better gaming experience in Nepal. How does this partnership work?
Nepal is a very popular region for PUBG. The owner of PUBG wanted to ensure a high-quality gaming experience in Nepal, and they were looking for a reliable partner. We’re happy to be recognized as their Nepali partner. For now, we are developing packages and working to reduce latency. This is not only for the WorldLink customers but for everyone who plays PUBG.
The establishment of a PUBG server in Nepal may be possible in the future, along with any other positive developments. Additionally, creating a Nepali workforce for the gaming business is what we’ve suggested to them. For instance, premium customers need real-time support which Nepalis can provide as they are interested in this game. They can expand job opportunities in the gaming industry. I’ve seen call centers and agents in Nepal playing various popular games. I believe that this could be a good chance for aspiring gamers in Nepal. These things are not discussed thoroughly with them, but we are just sharing the possibilities.