The telecommunications sector of Pakistan has seen outstanding advancements overthe last decade as a result of trade and investment liberalisation, privatisation,the creation of competitive environment and an openness to modern technologies. Mobile coverage has been extended to rural areas enabling many workers to have mobile phones once considered a luxury.
The total number of 3G/4G subscribers reached 37 million at the start of 2017 and Pakistan is tenth in theworld for mobile broadband subscriptions.In 2014,$1.1Bnwas
raised in Pakistan for the auctions of 3G and 4G spectrum.A further auction for Next Generation Mobile Services spectrum is planned for 2017.The base price for 2 x 10MHz blocks in the 1800MHz spectrum is set at $295M with the successful bidder having
the right to run a technology-neutral network.
Before realising commercial benefits, operators have had to face some new challenges with 3G and 4G technologies including:
• License cost – the 2014 auction raised a total of $903m from the four winners for 3G and $210m from the only operator to bid for 4G. These sums put huge financial pressure on the operators who also faced significant capital investments (in excess of $3.3Bn over the last two years). That said, since the auction,mobile operators’ revenues have increased by 60% which highlights the demand.
• Network coverage – this plays an important role in increasing 3G/4G adoption.Most developed countries considered 3G as the way forward when their objective was broadband penetration and delaying deployment of 4G allowed operators to recover their investment in 3G.The number of mobile phone users exceeded 136 million by December 2016 with the number of mobile broadband subscribers reaching 40 million.
• Mobile data traffic – mobile Internet is growing significantly and is driving the need for higher capacity. The average smartphone data consumption globally increased 18 times between 2011 and 2016 and is currently 150 MBytes/month.
• Affordability – the cost of a 3G smartphone has fallen to as little as $50. The cheapest LTE-enabled handsets are priced at over $200 which is a barrier to the adoption of 4G.A recent survey revealed that more than 17% population is willing to pay about $12 per month for 3G services. Mobile companies are offering 3G packages that are within the affordability limits.
• The number of broadband subscriptions in Pakistan, including 3G and 4G, exceeded 18
million in August 2015. Ovum forecasts that by end-2019 in Pakistan there will be 103
million 3G subscribers representing about 58% of the mobile market overtaking the 2G subscriptions. LTE subscriber numbers will still be relatively modest,reaching about 6.6
million by the end of 2019.
The benefits to society and economic growth of 3G/4G services include:
• Education – this includes the delivery of on-line real time/interactive educational facilities; enabling teachers to provide online individual guidance.
• Healthcare – this includes real-time data collection and health record access; analysis, diagnosis and consultation; disease/epidemic outbreak tracking; and health/administrative systems.
• Government – potential e-government applications include on-line systems for land, vehicle and other property transfers; smart grids for smart meters and sensors that will manage power stations and energy transmission lines; disaster and crisis management; alerts for jobs, training and guidance about higher education.
• Citizens – mobile data services are redefining the daily activities of people. For example,mobile banking provides a new level of convenience and safety for
ustomers and projects under the ‘safe city’ umbrella have been undertaken including networking of 100s of surveillance cameras.
• Economy – a study showed that, in developing countries, a 10% increase in broadband penetration accelerates economic growth by 1.38%.
Countries that adopted 3G/4G technologies a few years’ back have reaped the benefits within their economy and society. 3G/4G services have empowered citizens by transforming their way of living, learning, working and playing thus making their life more productive, secure and meaningful.
This is a summary of the full article which appeared in The Journal, Volume 11, part 2. Read it here (free for members).