Growth of digital enterprises, expansion of telecom infrastructure and uptake of digital services in Pakistan are reflective of the fact that the country is charting a new chapter of development. The four telecom operators in the country have over 34,000 towers, however, with the advent of 4G and 5G the tower requirement is likely to increase further. By 2022 there will be an increase of 17,000 towers in order to accommodate the 4G data users. In such a situation role of Internet infrastructure development companies will also become crucial for they will be the main driving force behind laying down a strong network base to realize the dream of Digital Pakistan.
Edotco eyes to chart new phase of development in Pakistan
Currently the rate of mobile phone penetration in Pakistan is 74%. There are 47.5 Million Internet users and over 35 Million social media users. With every passing day the data requirements and data dependency is increasing. This clearly indicates that in the near future the role of telecom sector will become even more significant.
With the burgeoning data needs, independent tower companies are also expanding their presence. One prominent name on the block in this regard is Edotco. A leading regional integrated telecommunications infrastructure services company with a footprint in Srilanka, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar and Pakistan. Edotco specialises in end-to-end solutions in the tower services sector including co-locations, build-to-suit, energy, transmission and operations and maintenance (O&M).
The organization has introduced the unique concept of tower sharing in Pakistan which is an urgent need. The dismal reality is that 40% of the 35,000 towers in the country are just 300 meters apart which results in wastage of $ 1 Billion worth capital due to existence of parallel towers at close distances. Edotco, offers a smart solution to this problem by introducing the concept of tower sharing.
Gayan Koralage, Director, Group Strategy, Edotco Group explained, “Data consumption is forecast to increase by as much as seven-times between 2018 and 2022 hence tower requirements will increase alongside. The need of the hour is to adopt a more collaborative approach by all telcos to be successful in the 5G era.”
However, initially telcos were rather resistant to adopt the concept of tower sharing. Country Managing Director Edotco Pakistan, Arif Hussain, shared the reason behind this, “A decade ago the mindset was different as telcos did not see tower sharing to be a beneficial option but today owing to opex and capex pressures, it seems a rather viable approach.”
Gayan highlighted that with advent of 4G and 5G, tower structures will also have to change hence tower sharing will be a necessity, “To shift from 3G to 4G there needs to be increase in number of sites. If each operator has their own site and tower then it will result in overcrowding of towers therefore telcos have to adopt modern concepts being introduced by tower companies.”
The presence of tower infrastructure companies is already growing in the country with Edotco Group having invested $ 200 Million this year. They plan to further expand investment by a $ 100 Million. The company offers suite of services ranging from construction of B2S sites, co location sites, and provision of street furniture and energy solutions.
Edotco Pakistan has partnered with all major telcos in the country including Jazz, Telenor, Ufone and Zong for provision of infrastructure facilities. They are also providing energy solutions to telcos such as Jazz for their network up gradation.
“We fully support the Digital Pakistan mission of the government and keeping in view the population of the country, penetration of cellar technology and growing demand for data transfer, I am sure edotco will become a significant player.” said Koralage.
Pakistan still lags behind in the digitization race as other countries have made robust progress in the last 5 years. In 2018 the 4G penetration rate in Malaysia was 55% whereas 4G population coverage does not even cross 50% in Pakistan even in 2019. In such conditions it is rather difficult to imagine the implementation smart city models in the metropolitan hubs.
Gayan Koralge claimed this could change, “The future seems bright to me, and the connectivity network is strengthening in Pakistan. Pakistan is amongst the top 5 contributors to the growth of mobile internet users and has 72 Million 3G/4G subscribers. The tower count in the country is increasing too, in the last 2 years 2500 towers have been installed out of which 1500 towers belong to Edotco Pakistan. We are closely working with all four telecom operators helping them to expand network thus improving coverage nationwide. With improved coverage there will be better access as well.”
Given that the role of IT & Telecom sector is growing in Pakistan, it is also important for policy makers to prepare a national digital plan that shall be accorded the highest priority for the country to progress economically and technologically. The emergence of internet infrastructure companies in Pakistan could help in speeding up the process of digitalization yet much need to be done at the policy level to facilitate such organizations.