Exclusive Interview: PTA Chairman, Dr. Ismail Shah
Dr. Syed Ismail Shah, Chairman PTA and the former member Telecom at the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication brings with him rich experience of both private and government sector. He has a vast experience in the ICT industry and a lifetime member of Pakistan Engineering Council, Senior Member IEEE USA and Member of the Institute of Electronics Information and Communication Engineers in Japan. He is also the Exective Director of Central Asian Cellular Forum. He also provides consultancy services to several companies working providing services based on CDMA. His current research interests are in the area of multiple user detection in CDMA, MC-CDMA, OFDM, Jammer incision using time-frequency analysis and MIMO-OFDM based systems.
Appointment of new Chairman of PTA has brought good fortune for IT sector in Pakistan. A lot of developments have taken place recently regarding Spectrum Auction for Third Generation Mobile Services in Pakistan as Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has taken its first step forward by selecting the consultancy firm for the auction process. We are expecting great things from Dr. Ismail Shah in devising a comprehensive strategy for the upcoming auction of 3G licenses and overall improvement in the efficiency of this institution.
[success]In an exclusive interview with Phone World team Dr. Shah shared his thoughts about upcoming 3G auction and other challenges PTA is currently facing.[/success]
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- Although it has been only a couple of months since you joined PTA as chairman but a lot of projects have been initiated in last few months, how will you sum up your tenure up till now?
- Now that you have mentioned consumer-How do you see the consumer in Pakistan from the ICT stand point?
- A 3G consulting firm has been appointed just recently, tell us something about that?
- When should we expect 3G to be up and running and benefits will it bring to the country?
- Another pressing issue right now is the number of licenses for the upcoming auction. How will PTA auction 3 licenses among five operators?
- All operators have finally installed the bio-metric SIM verification system, how will it control the misuse of SIM connection?
- When 3G will be activated in the country, people will have 24/7 access to free call services like, Viber, Skype, Tango, free messengers. How will PTA control the SIM misuse then?
- PTA has taken some solid steps to control grey trafficking, would you educate us about the progress made in this regard?
- YouTube has been blocked in Pakistan for more than a year now, but still people are hoping that it will be unblocked soon. Has PTA started working to a devise mechanism to filter internet content and will YouTube be unblocked any time soon?
- According to a recent survey Pakistan is in the bottom 10 countries in terms of internet speed. What is PTA is take on that?
- Chinese handsets are rapidly capturing the Pakistani handset market but most of handsets come with technical issues. What is PTA doing in device testing department in order to overcome this problem?
- What kind of wireless technologies are you envisioning for Pakistan in the future and how will it evolve?
- Do you think that OFC and others have room to expand in the future telecom scenario from Pakistan Perspective?
- How do you see PTA as a regulator in future and what steps are being taken in this regard?
Last few months have been quite challenging but I believe that there are great opportunities ahead of us. A number of important projects have been initiated and a couple more are in the pipeline. My work at PTA so far can be divided in to two categories, one comprises of the projects that were on a standstill or I would say also non-developmental for past some time like grey trafficking and illegal use of SIMs. The other category is related to the futuristic and development projects that are needed to be done, 3G being the top most priority. PTA is also working hard to bring a fresh and modern organizational change within itself in order to increase the efficiency of the organization and provide better services to consumers.
PTA being a regulator and public service organization values consumer at the highest level and is the main reason for its existence. I believe that consumer has become much smarter and more aware; Pakistan is a society of young people where the existing generation only has a median age of 26 who are more tech-savvy and educated about the modern technology trends. We not only see that consumers will get connected to others, but they will connect to system and more systems & devices such as fans, aircons, TV and other household and industrial systems & devices connecting to systems, which in the next decade will create enormous social and economic opportunities. This is the reason why we see that Pakistan will soon become one of the largest smartphone markets of Asia; there are still lots of opportunities to be availed. The vision PTA is moving forward with is to enable its consumer and help establish a smarter society. So we will support the eco-system that will enable a better and smarter society in the future.
3G launch in Pakistan is Government and the Minister Ms. Anusha Rehman’s top priority and a project that is also very close to my heart, as well. Telecom operators and general public are expecting great things from PTA and we are working devotedly to meet their expectations. We don’t want the auction to end up like the past. Although, we want to speed up the process but there are certain procedures we have to follow such as the one set by PEPRA that may take a bit more time but will ensure transparency and fairness in the whole process. As far as selection of 3G consulting firm is concerned, we are following PEPRA procedures as well as International best practices we are pleased to receive an overwhelming response where seven companies showed expression of interest, out of those we initially selected 5 firms and later on our high level committee at PTA for the selection process picked out the best one. The selection process for consultants was very fair and transparent and we are confidence that the selected consultant would now do its best to assist PTA with the auction.
If you ask me, I would like to see it up and running right from this very moment but as I said there is a certain procedure that has to be followed. Insha-Allah as things are moving now in the right direction, we expect the auction process to be completed by February. While, we are doing our bid, operators have already started working on their 3G networks so once the licenses are given out; we expect a very quick roll out of 3G services. Here, I would like to point out that this is spectrum technology neutral so the operators can deploy 4G technology now and/or in future if they feel that ECO system in the spectrum is mature enough and make business viability for the same.
I personally wish that all the operators should move towards the next stage of technology evolution, however, there is only a limited spectrum available right now. We currently have only 30 MHz for the current auction but we are working with the Frequency Allocation Board and other organizations on securing additional spectrum so that technology development can take its course for the benefit of consumers. For the current auction also, we will seek the consultant’s opinion, as they start working.
The law and order situation in Pakistan is a very serious and unfortunate where sadly the whole nation is getting affected by this in one way or another. The misuse of SIM connection has been the topic of hot debates for quite some time. The honorable Supreme Court has also taken a very serious note of this and we are making all out efforts to see that the SIMs are not used for anti-state activities. PTA in cooperation with all telecom operators and NADRA have installed new SIM verification system that will control the illegal use of SIMs by verifying the identity of the consumers. Although, it takes only a few seconds but some of my industry colleagues say that it is against the market forces but in the long run it will definitely benefit the society as a whole by overcoming the security risks. So I would request people to cooperate with us and their cooperation will not only help us but they themselves will benefit from taking such pre-cautionary measures.
I think from a business standpoint this is the issue related to Over the Top services and the conventional service providers have more at stake than anyone else. As far as misuse of SIMs is concerned; we are trying to get OTT service providers to work with telecom operators to ensure that these services are being used in optimal manners in fact we are currently in talks with operators and some of the OTT service providers to devise a mechanism to curtail the misuse of these free services. Not only this but also come up with a cooperative framework where not only it makes business case for the entities, but address the security concerns and provide better consumer experience.
We are working on two fronts to control the grey trafficking; we now have a Traffic Monitoring System with in the PTA that is very closely working with telecom operators and fixed-line service providers. On the other hand, we have also started a consumer awareness program in order to educate the customers about the mechanism of discouraging grey trafficking and also about the losses that are incurred because of grey trafficking. I would specially like to praise the telecom operators here who are helping us in the process and showing us their full support.
I think what we need to understand here is that the use of YouTube has two aspects to it, one is positive while other is the negative. People react very emotional to the content available on the internet posted by the vested interest groups and respond in a way that damages the society. So, we are trying hard through public awareness programs to be vigilant against such miscreants and we expect from consumers to react more rationally are fulfilled. As far as technical capabilities are concerned, we are not only working on a filtering mechanism but we are also in contact with all the stakeholders especially with Google so that such objectionable material could be controlled. I would like to clarify that the PTA would support free expression of interest but it should be within the norms of a decent society respecting religion, color, language, customs etc.
We are aware that the competition has increased three folds over the time but we also believe that once 3G networks is rolled out, a lot of improvement will be seen in internet speed all across the country including the rural areas. We are working not only on the wireless side but are also encouraging other technologies to join in that could provide internet facility. The process is a little time consuming but it will bear fruit in the longer run. I do not want to defend what happened earlier but I assure you that while we may not be in first 10 in the near future but will surely be far ahead where we stand now as you indicated.
Devices are very important part of the eco-system, the cheaper the device, the lower its quality gets. We are working on a multi-facet strategy to ensure that good quality devices come in the market. We will soon advertise an Expression of Interest for government and private entities to come and work with our device testing and approval department. We are also planning to involve the manufacturers and distributors in the process. I am very hopeful that the collaboration with the market forces will enable us to overcome this problem of getting quality devices at affordable prices.
All the licenses either current or future that we have or will issue are technology neutral, on which all types of technology could be deployed. We are expecting mushroom growth of internet services especially on mobile side that will also put a lot of pressure on the spectrum availability. We are planning to get additional spectrum as I said earlier that will support LTE and LTE advance networks in the future. FAB is being really helpful in this regard. We will be encouraging the industry to move forward with the technology weather it is wireless technology or access network. I see a bright future for the telecom sector of Pakistan as 3G will grow from short to medium term and ultimately will move towards LTE and LTE-Advance networks at the right time. I am very optimistic that a good eco-system will be developed with the help of operators and other stakeholders.
I believe Pakistan has a very important Geographical position by being in the middle of China, the market leader in ICT, Afghanistan & Central Asian Countries which are landlocked and have strategic importance, South East Asian countries, India and Middle East. Pakistan being the transit point has a lot of potential in fiber optics, going all the way from China to the Indian Ocean, Middle East & Iran than towards South East Asia through India and then finally to Afghanistan and Central Asia. So Pakistan’s Fiber Optics international scene has a very bright future with lots of opportunities in my opinion.
Additionally, work is in progress for our metro networks to connect intra-country destinations for triple and quad play services that are presently available in major towns. The companies currently working in Pakistan are doing a pretty good job; we will assist them in every possible way so that they could expand to other smaller cities and areas of the country as well.
Regulator plays a very important role in taking the industry forward; I see regulator as a facilitator and PTA is working hard to provide light touch regulations that promotes business friendly environment to the telecom players so that the industry could flourish and benefit all stakeholders. We will try to address all the hindrances in an efficient manner and provide complete assistance to the industry. We have a very good team at the PTA, so give us a little time and Insha Allah you will see a new face of PTA and it will not only set an example for the other institutions of the country but will also be benchmarked highly by other regulatory authorizes as well.