When It Rains, It Pours – Dialog Axiata Provides 4G Mobile Coverage to Mahawilachchiya

Dialog Axiata technicians checking Dialog 4G signals inside the Horizon Academy - Mahawilachchiya

Dialog Axiata technicians checking Dialog 4G signals inside the Horizon Academy - Mahawilachchiya

When it rains, they say, it pours. That is what happened to Mahawilachchiya because of Horizon Lanka Foundation. Mahawilachchiya is (was) a backward village situated bordering the sprawling Wilpattu National Park. If the name of the village was mentioned anywhere else other than in Mahawilachchiya, it was because of it being constantly targeted by the Tamil Tigers terrorists from 1985 to 2009 till the permanent peace was achieved by defeating the entire terrorist outfit thanks to the political leadership of the former president Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa. During the wartime, a numerous terrorist attacks were inflicted and the police, army and the civil security guards were injured, maimed or paid the ultimate price for the nation as a reason. A number of terrorists also were killed by the security forces. A considerable number of villagers also were either killed in cold blood and some were kidnapped and only a few could return by deceiving the terrorists. A several parents of our students also were either killed or kidnapped.

People of Mahawilachchiya was not connected to the outside world through a communication network and only the Police Station and the Post Office had limited telephone access using radio link technology. One had to wait a several hours to talk to someone at a very high price from the village post office.

When I started Horizon Lanka under a huge mango tree in my ancestral garden in 1998, there was no telephone coverage. I had to go to Colombo by spending almost a whole day to Colombo to just check emails and update our website. The distance from Mahawilachchiya to Colombo is 240 km but the bus ride on dilapidated road network in the country those days wore me out wasting the whole day on the road.

I had the luck of meeting Mr. Supun Weerasinghe from Dialog Axiata in 2002. He was then a young executive and now the CEO of Dialog Axiata, Sri Lanka’s leading telecommunication provider.  Dialog sent a team of engineers and fixed a special unit to provide mobile coverage within a 50-meter radius around Horizon Lanka’s small computer lab. That was the only place people could use their Dialog mobile phones. Then Dialog provided 2G mobile coverage to Mahawilachchiya in November, 2006. Then came the 3G. The latest addition to the line up was comprehensive 4G coverage to Mahawilachchiya from Dialog Axiata. The specialty of this is that Mahawilachchiya hamlet got all these technologies long before even bigger towns in Sri Lanka got them. The main reason to get all these new technologies to Mahawilachchiya is the existence of the Horizon Lanka Foundation and my strong links with Dr. Hans Wijayasuriya – the regional CEO for the South Asian Region of the Axiata Group Bhd., Asia’s second largest telecommunications company and Mr. Supun Weerasinghe, the young CEO of Dialog Axiata. Dialog has been a very big pillar of our success since 2002 and I hope the relationship would be even stronger in time to come as we are an organization which depends on new technology since the inception of the small English class under a tree in 1998. Dialog Axiata PLC has assisted Horizon Lanka Foundation over the years whenever we requested their assistance. Read more about it at http://www.horizonlanka.org/en/?s=Dialog+telekom&submit=Search

I thank Mr. Nuwan Samaranayake, a Sri Lankan American living in Houston, Texas, the United States for assisting me in this quest of wider mobile coverage and stronger data speed with Dialog. I also thank the whole Dialog Axiata team for being such a friendly and effective company. Extending 4G coverage to Mahawilachchiya was not in the immediate pipelines of the company priority list but the need to livestream Horizon Lanka’s annual concert, “A Rainbow of Cultures – Horizon Lanka Mega Concert – 2017” on December 31, 2017 and the planned launch of Horizon Academy website on January 01, 2018 and most importantly, the scheduled launch of Horizon Virtual Academy project that would allow anyone from anywhere in the world access both the recorded and the live ICT and language lessons from its website free of charge (only for the year 2018 – the users will have to pay an affordable subscription fee from January 2019.)

What will be in store for Mahawilachchiya next from Dialog? Maybe 5G … … … ?

Nanda Wanninayaka – Chairman & the CEO of Horizon Lanka Foundation

Dialog Axiata technicians checking Dialog 4G signals inside the Horizon Academy - Mahawilachchiya
Dialog Axiata technicians checking Dialog 4G signals inside the Horizon Academy – Mahawilachchiya

BPO in the A’pura Backwoods – Financial Times – the Sunday Times – October 21, 2007

OnTime BPO Operators
OnTime BPO Operators
OnTime BPO Operators

MAHAWILACHCHIYA, Anuradhapura – Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) is a growing business globally which Sri Lanka has now cottoned onto quite capably.

Dozens of BPO’s are springing up here as global companies look for cost effective ways of handling their back-office operations in countries where labour and communications are cheaper than the west.

Yet ever heard of a BPO company in a jungle setting, next to a wild life park and subject to the occasional threat by the LTTE? OnTime Pvt Ltd is part of rural Sri Lanka’s first IT village, Horizon Lanka in the backwoods of Mahavilachchiya (adjoining Wilpattu) off Anuradhapura, where a group of youth processes data for a fee.

There is nothing different in the BPO industry in processing information inside the office of the client or the service provider located elsewhere. For example, staff at Mahavilachchiya’s proud company, OnTime, processing marketing data for a John Keells Group subsidiary daily could – if we close the curtains in this nice office surrounded by shady trees and occasional bird calls – very well be inside a JKH office in Colombo. There’s nothing different.

OnTime operators log into a JKH SAP accounting system through a secured link and enter data like prices and quality of suppliers. Some 150 documents are handled by one operator per day. Dialog Telekom and Singer are expected to join OnTime as its next clients with negotiations going on with the two parties.

“The BPO entry came as we needed to create job opportunities for our youngsters to remain in the village after their initial learning in English and IT,” said Nanda Wanninayaka (better known as ‘Wanni”), the village boy-English teacher-turned village entrepreneur.

Horizon Lanka, Sri Lanka’s first IT village, is a revelation itself. Launched by Wanni, as a Mahawilachchiya school teacher, in 1998, the initiative began as an English teaching exercise for the children whose parents were mostly rice farmers. From there with one computer donated by the US embassy, impressed by an English journal that the students did, the village has progressed to a centre of IT learning where one in every eight families has a computer (a ratio of 100 computers for 800 families).

Unheard of before but in these backwoods poor farmers are reading online newspapers in the comfort of their makeshift homes with uptodate computers with the help – unbelievable again – of seven wifi zones under a new technology called MESH. Here a section of the village amidst paddy fields and streams has wireless Internet access at all times.

Wanni and his Horizon Lanka exploits are legendary and profiled in newspapers and TV stations across the world. The IT village’s biggest opportunity probably came when Wanni and his best students shared the stage with Intel Chairman Dr. Craig Barrett in December 2005, during the latter’s visit to Sri Lanka and presence at a major IT conference.

The idea of setting up a BPO emerged as Wanni pondered on the next level of development. “Having taught English and then IT, the next issue was where do they get jobs? How can we retain them in the village?” he asked.

Enter the Foundation for Advancing Rural Opportunities in Sri Lanka (FAROLanka) to help Horizon set up its BPO and find its first client. FARO’s help however comes with some conditions – Wanni’s support and guidance to help other villages to develop on similar lines which the latter and his team are more than willing to do.

Isuru Senevirathna is OnTime’s Operations Director. He has received BPO training – along with another OnTime employee – in Laos and India sponsored by John Keells.

The 20-year old youth like any other Mahavilachchiya youngster would have had to either join the armed forces (in the case of girls it’s garment factories) or remain in the village as a farmer, until Wanni and his vision came along. Now Isuru is the proud owner of a motor cycle, happy and contended.

OnTime CEO is Nirosh Manjula Ranathunga, a 30 year-old graduate from Kelaniya University who studied IT while doing his B.Com degree. Ranathunga, who lives in Anuradhapura and visits Horizon twice a week saying he can handle operations from his home town easily through email/Internet, is also interested in transferring his skills and learning to other villages. He has his own company, Real Business Solutions, and runs a formerly-owned Horizon Lanka cyber café in Anuradhapura.

“I joined Horizon Lanka two years ago as a project manager and I’am very happy with this BPO initiative,” he said. Some 50 youths are being trained to take up BPO jobs in Mahavilachchiya which has a modern computer lab with 512 KBPS Internet connection. The Horizon Lanka website is www.horizonlanka.org

Dialog Telekom provides mobile coverage to Mahawilachchiya

Mahawilacchiya Covered
Mahawilachchiya Covered

Buddhika Prasad Hettiarachchi

Villagers in Mahawilachchiya are very happy to receive Dialog Telekom’s mobile phone coverage to entire village from the night of December 18, 2006. Dialog is the first and only mobile network provider in Mahawilachchiya. Even bigger towns like Mihintale are yet to get Dialog coverage. Dialog provided coverage to Mahawilachchiya to appreciate what we are doing for community development through Horizon Lanka Foundation. The whole village thanks Dialog for covering the village.

Horizon Lanka Foundation was established in 1998. However, the village was suffering without proper communication facilities those days. We just used a mobile phone fixing it to an antenna on the roof of Horizon Lanka computer lab. But it was not enough for us to accomplish our communication needs. As a result, we missed many opportunities that could have come in our way. Lack of communication facilities is not just a problem for Horizon Lanka only. Since many of the villagers are farmers they wanted to maintain constant contact with outside markets. Similarly many other basic requirements are not sufficient or available in Mahawilachchiya. Health and transport can also be included in this group.

A happy farmer using mobile phones
A happy farmer using mobile phones

But communication stands above all others. Villagers had to travel few kilometers even in emergency to get a phone call. They also had to pay a high price for a call. The land line connection was just up to Pemaduwa town. Many villagers had to wait for several hours for an incoming call from somewhere. It was a frequent scene to see a villager or two in Mahawilachchiya tank bund to get a call or to receive a call on a specified time as it was the only location in the village to have some decent coverage. Tank bund was tall and signals from Anuradhapura town which is 40 km away were received to the tank bund. Telegrams are also going by snail mail up to Anuradhapura.

Calling loved ones
Calling loved ones

Mr. Mothilal De Silva, the General Manager of the Dialog Telekom, visited Horizon Lanka in 2002. It was a great occasion for us and it increased our hopes about a proper communication system. He promised to see the feasibility of covering Mahawilachchiya. It was found out that the dialog coverage is 35 km beyond Mahawilachchiya. So we had to wait longer.

Horizon Lanka staff used Dialog mobile phones for communication purposes when they were outside the village and had to pay high charges. As a result a big amount from the annual budget had to be allocated for communication. That cost was an unbearable for a growing Horizon Lanka. In 2003, Dialog Telecom lent a hand to us by providing us with 5 special low cost incoming free packages. This was of immense use to the staff of HLF and could cut down on the communication budget to a considerable extent.

Still no network service provider could cover Mahawilachchiya area. Then Dialog installed a repeater which collected signals from Anuradhapura and distributed within a 50 meter radius around Horizon internet tower. Many people could be seen around the Horizon Lanka premises using their mobile phones to call their friends, relatives and business partners. The repeater was of immense use not only to Horizon Lanka but also to many villagers.

Excitement at an old age
Excitement at an old age

Since December 18, the whole village enjoys the mobile coverage and now the farmers can communicate even from their rice fields to their households. This will make things easy for them. We hope the number of people using mobile phones will increase within next few months remarkable. We also hope that Dialog will enhance their assistance to the village by providing the villagers a special low cost package too.

Dialog Telekom Assists Horizon Lanka

Miss Nadee presenting the check of 120,000 LKR
Miss Nadee presenting the check of 120,000 LKR

A team of staff members from Dialog Telekom, Sri Lanka’s premier mobile phone network service provider visited Horizon Lanka Foundation in Mahawilachchiya on December 15. Miss Nadee Thennakoon, Mr. Anjula Godakumbura and Mr. Udaya Akshath of CSR Department of Dialog comprised the team.

Dialog donated 6 brand new PCs and 6 computer tables for the students to use. The company also donated 120,000 LKR as the allowance for one of our teachers for the year 2007. This will enable, one of our instructors, Mr Buddhika Hettiarachchi – a final year engineering student at University of Peradeniya an uninterrupted monthly allowance for 2007.

The cost of the total donation was 500,000 LKR ((4637.35 USD). Dialog Telekom has been helping Horizon Lanka Foundation since 2003. First, the company provided Horizon Lanka Foundation a low cost phone package for 5 staff members and 10 parents. Then they provided mobile phone service to Horizon Lanka premises by installing a repeater on Horizon’s internet tower. They expected to cover the whole village with mobile service in near future too.

Horizon Lanka Foundation thanks Dr Hans Wijayasuriya, the CEO Mr.Mothilal de Silva, the General Manager and Mr Michael de Soyza, the Assistant Manager – Corporate Social Responsibility of Dialog Telekom Limited for their continued assistance to Horizon Lanka Foundation.

Happy junior students with brand new PCs from Dialog.
Happy junior students with brand new PCs from Dialog.
Horizon Lanka students with brand new PCs from Dialog.
Horizon Lanka students with brand new PCs from Dialog.
Dialog staff members.
Dialog staff members.

Dialog Telekom Visits Horizon Lanka, Mahawilachchiya

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Dialog Telekom team with the students of Horizon Lanka Academy
Dialog Telekom team with the students of Horizon Lanka Academy

Some staff members of the prestigious Dialog Telekom, Sri Lanka’s pioneer mobile telephone network, visited Horizon Lanka Foundation in February, 2006. These are some photos taken at that event. After the visit they have decided to donate us 6 PCs and pay the monthly allowance of Mr. Buddhika Prasad Hettiarachchi,  our mathematics teacher for a year.

Students doing a presentation about Horizon Lanka's journey to sucess
Students doing a presentation about Horizon Lanka’s journey to success
Students doing a presentation about Horizon Lanka's journey to sucess
Students doing a presentation about Horizon Lanka’s journey to sucess