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Published on February 21st, 2012 | by Arsalan Mir


Point of View: 3G in Pakistan

Guest Post by Parvez Iftikhar


Irrespective of the on-going, completely unnecessary, “controversy” surrounding auction of 3G in Pakistan, allotting 3G frequencies to telecom operators is extremely urgent and essential for Pakistan. We have already been left behind by others who used to be our followers in 2G. Mobile broadband – or 3G – should have been introduced here already four years ago. The delay has made us lose huge opportunities relating to job creation, international trade, economic growth and Foreign Direct Investment (Telecom FDI 2007: US$1,824 mil and 2011: US$ 79 mil). Not to mention letting the technology gap between the advanced countries and us widen even more, despite the fact that more than 70% of our population is below 35 – normally considered early adopters of modern technology.

According to ITU’s World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Database, a total of 159 economies worldwide have launched 3G services commercially and the number of active mobile-broadband subscriptions has surpassed one billion.  Countries from New Zealand to USA are allocating huge amounts of national resources to deploy infrastructure, like Optic Fiber Cables, to facilitate delivery of broadband to the citizens. Whereas we are taking ages even to allocate the God-given resource of frequency-spectrum which will facilitate provision of broadband.

Some skeptics ask what we will do with 3G? Mostly they are only thinking in terms of mobile phones – and not mobile broadband. Although a lot could be done with 3G smart phones too (present estimate 15 mil smart phones in Pakistan, expected to increase to 50 mil by 2016), it is 3G mobile broadband, mainly using USB dongles, complementing fixed broadband, that is of bigger value and main attraction for countries like ours. While people in developed countries usually use mobile-broadband in addition to the fixed, mobile-broadband is often the only access method available to people in developing countries.

Broadband has tremendous commercial usages but one of it’s main benefits lies in it’s capability as a deliverer of basic services to hundreds of millions of citizens, especially those living in the hinterlands of the country. Education, Health, Governance, Commerce, Agriculture, Women Empowerment,… all can find their way. Greater access to broadband services has been found to help accelerate achievement of development targets like the internationally-agreed Millennium Development Goals. It is only using broadband that we can serve our exploding population (CAGR: 2.5%) at their doorsteps, not only to bring prosperity to them but also prevent mass migration to urban centers and save our bursting mega-cities from crumbling under their own weight.

Right now in Pakistan broadband is available in less than 300, small and big, towns and cities. All the present two million connections being of fixed broadband category (50% wireless). But then there is only so much fixed technologies can do. Fortunately, thanks to the ubiquitous 2G GSM network, 3G can take broadband to every nook and corner of the country, becoming accessible to more than 90% population, with relatively small effort. I have deliberately used the word “effort” and not investment because investment will come from private sector telecom operators. Here is a sector where the government doesn’t need to bother about development budget allocations and resource constraints. Just like 2G was such an effective engine of growth for our economy, 3G too could contribute significantly. Admittedly the private sector operators would like to invest and deploy 3G mainly in large cities, but for the rest there is USF!

As for the controversy, firstly, on a per-megahertz-per-year basis, the announced base price is equal to the peak price achieved last time around. Secondly it is likely to go higher during bidding, despite worse political/economic/security situation than in 2004. And thirdly the licenses are going to be technology-neutral, therefore it is the operators who would decide whether they deploy 3G or something else (incidentally 4G – the so-called LTE Advanced — is not even there yet). Yes, the only thing that all of us need to be vigilant about and jealously guard is the process being followed. The process must be fair and transparent. Period.

The author is the formar CEO of USF (Universal Service Fund) Pakistan. He joined the newly formed USF in May 2007 as it’s first employee. Within weeks he built the organisation and successfully started executing projects to bridge the digital divide in the country thru private sector telecom service providers. USF Pakistan is globally recognized as a success-story in it’s domain. Parvez receives frequent invitations to deliver talks at international forums on Universal Service Obligation issues (mainly sponsored by World Bank, ITU and USAID) as well as conduct workshops and provide consultancy services to various countries. Presently Parvez is working as an Independent Telecom Consultant. Before USF he was the country-head of Siemens Telecom in Pakistan. Has been to great learning institutions like Carnegie Mellon and Oxford Universities and has been extensively trained by Siemens in Germany.

This post first appeared on Parvez Iftikhar’s personal blog.

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About the Author

is a Telecom enthusiast with engineering background based in Lahore. On professional front, he is the Director Operations at the Target Group. He can be reached at arsalan (at) telecompk (dot) net

8 Responses to Point of View: 3G in Pakistan

  1. Pingback: Will our 3G remain on the EDGE only? | TelecomPK

  2. Arsalan Mir says:

    Some intresting comments on the same post can be read at Mr. Parvez’s personal blog: http://www.piftikhar.com/2012/02/3g-in-pakistan/

  3. Saftain says:

    Worth reading comments of Parvez. However, i think there is some monetary temptation missing to the Bureaucracy (to clear the smoke) which is causing immense delay in execution of 3G same like in 20th amendment where such lolly pop between 10-20 million to each senator has made the deal. Bitter but ground reality to make things happen in Pakistan. so sad so true.

  4. Tariq Khan says:

    I’ll have to agree with Jamil Khan about Warid. When it comes to service they do a great job, but weren’t making enough noise about it.
    Good to see they’re Karachi offer bit and ads coming around.

    In other news, heard that 3G is coming this mid year and Warid’s a big yes about it as well. Let’s see what happens. Everyone though does seem interested.

    – 50 mil smart phones seems a bit of a stretch though don’t you think?

  5. Jase says:

    Interesting read. Totally agree!

    Question- what is the source of this projection:
    “present estimate 15 mil smart phones in Pakistan, expected to increase to 50 mil by 2016)”

  6. Jamil Khan says:

    For sure Warid is the best in terms of its network quality, transparency and thats the reason it has the largest postpay base but i dont know why there Advertising was Off and its good if they are back :)

    I think Everyone should have 3G option now so then once can decide on Which is the best company.

    We are keeping our fingers Crossed

  7. Really Interesting Post Parvez Iftikhar, thank you but all the Telecom companies are just ready to go for it and now PTA is looking for a consultant company.

    Also just heard by a friend that Warid is coming Back Big TIME with the big blast as they got their advertising restored.

    Anyone have any ideas if any new offers coming as i think there is something exciting they are coming up.

    I just moved to Noshera, and here Telenor and Ufone network is really bad.

    I hope the 3G licensing issue sorts out timely and PTA gets their consultants :)

  8. Pingback: Point of View: 3G in Pakistan | Tea Break

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