How Government Progressed Telecommunications over the decade?


2020 marks the beginning of a new decade with promises of a better digital future. From artificial intelligence to quantum computing and blockchain, a host of new technology solutions will make for a paradoxical and exciting 2020. Undoubtedly, 2020 will be a time of innovation as people better leverage technology but before exploring the future technologies and their impact on our lives let’s look back at the last decade of digital transformation and see what we managed to achieve over the last ten years.

A major shift in the telecom sector occurred after the re-regulation policy of 2003 that allowed a massive foreign investment to the country and witnessed a significant uptake in internet subscriptions

In the last decade, a revolutionary shift in technology took place that changed the way the world worked. Like everywhere else, Pakistan too had made some great efforts to be a part of the digital revolution. Many great

things happened in our industry over the last decade that set the stage for social and economic growth of the country. The Government through its Ministry of IT & Telecom played an important role in bring the much awaited tech revolution in the country. It was only possible through the government’s initiatives and support that Pakistan’s ICT industry became one of the fastest-growing industries in the world.

A major shift in the telecom sector occurred after the re-regulation policy of 2003 that allowed a massive foreign investment to the country and witnessed a significant uptake in internet subscriptions. The last decade was especially quite eventful as the government’s focus on the growing telecom sector improved and a number of policies were formulated to uplift the industry. Here are some of the notable contributions of government during the last decade that directed the progress in the telecom industry.

Growing Telecom market

The decade started off with great progress as Pakistan celebrated its “100 million subscribers” in 2010 whereas, broadband subscribers crossed the first million mark in 2013. After that, we saw a rapid growth in the mobile subscriber base of the country.

The decade started off with great progress as Pakistan celebrated its “100 million subscribers” in 2010 whereas, broadband subscribers crossed the first million mark in 2013

Pakistan’s emerging mobile industry now connects 164 million people, representing 77% of the country’s population. The mobile broadband subscription, on the other hand, stands at 36 percent penetration rate with 74 million users. Impressive growth in mobile uptake started after the introduction of 3G and 4G services in the country. The awareness campaigns of telecom operators along with MoITT and PTA initiatives led to spectacular growth in overall telecom services in Pakistan.

Over the last decade, the growth in the ICT sector has given much confidence to the industry players who have shown visible interest in our local industry and made huge investments. A number of OEMs entered the Pakistani market, some of which even showed interest in local manufacturing. At the same time, mobile operators also made huge investments in the industry in the form of network upgradation and NGMS auctions. Total telecom revenues increased from Rs. 362 billion in 2010-11 to Rs. 488.8 billion during FY 2017-18. Whereas, the telecom contribution to national exchequer upped from 116.9 billion to Rs. 147.2 billion.

NGMS Auctions

Over the years, MoITT gave Spectrum management a special focus to end spectrum scarcity and to provide next-generation services in the country. The formal launch of 3G and later on 4G services started a new era of technology boom after which Pakistan’s ICT industry progressed by leaps and bounds; uplifting the socio-economic conditions of the country. The process of Next Generation Mobile Services (NGMS) auction started in 2013 and ‘Value Partners Management Consulting Limited’ was hired as a Consultant for NGMS spectrum auction. Whereas, a successful auction was carried out in 2014 that produced a total of US $ 1.22 billion for the Government of Pakistan. The uptake of 3Gand 4G services increased rapidly and broadband subscribers in Pakistan reached 32.3 million at the end of FY2015-16. Keeping in view the growing demand for next-generation services, in 2016 another spectrum auction was carried out in 850 MHz band which was won by Telenor for the US $395 million. For the proliferation of telecom services in AJK & GB, government also held WLL spectrum auction where Linkdotnet and PTCL won different lots offered in various regions of the AJK & GB. In 2017 PTA carried out another round of auction for the 10 MHz block of the unsold Next Generation Mobile Services (NGMS) spectrum (4G) which was won by Jazz for $295 million-plus 10% tax of the auction winning price.

The formal launch of 3G and later on 4G services started a new era of technology boom after which Pakistan’s ICT industry progressed by leaps and bounds; uplifting the socio-economic conditions of the country Cleaner and better mobile ecosystem

In 2014 the government implemented the ‘Biometric Verification System (BVS) for SIM sale’ project wherein SIMs are sold and activated only after verification of customer’s fingerprints from NADRA. After the implementation of BVS, PTA blocked 521,440 unauthorized numbers and 48,140 unique IMEIs, 423,871 suspected numbers involved in illegal call termination, 752,603 numbers (which were more than 7 per CNIC). In another move to create a clean mobile eco-system and support the industry players, PTA started the type approval of mobile handsets after which only type-approved devices were allowed to be sold in the country. This step played an important role in countering fake and counterfeit devices that were openly sold in the market.

The success of DIRBS  can be judged by the fact that other countries like Indonesia and Vietnam have requested Pakistan government to help them in introducing a similar system in their respective countries as well

With the growth spurs in the industry, mobile theft and parallel imports of cell phones also stimulated. Grey and counterfeit products are cheaper as compared to genuine products because they are non-taxed and non-duty paid. To counter the issue of counterfeit and stolen devices, a comprehensive system, called ‘Device Identification, Registration and Blocking System (DIRBS) was launched. The system is designed to detect sub-standard, fake, stolen and illegally imported mobile phones operating in the country. PTA has so far blocked more than 50 million fake and stolen devices. The success of the system can be judged by the fact that other countries like Indonesia and Vietnam have requested the Pakistan government to help them in introducing a similar system in their respective countries as well.

Policy Changes

In 2015 MoITT introduced its first telecommunication policy with an aim to transform Pakistan into an economically vibrant and knowledge-based country by 2025. The policy covered a number of areas which were ignored in previous policies. It included regulations for Licensing Framework, Transfer of Business, OTT, PTCL, Cross Border P2P, Public Wi-Fi, competition rules, spectrum, infrastructure, telecommunications laws policy review. While in 2018, the first Digital Policy of the country was approved. The policy contains several incentives for the information and technology and services, extension of income tax holiday, 5% sales tax on services (domestic), provision of bank loans to IT/ITeS industry, 5% cash reward on export remittances, Tech SEZs (special economic zones) to create a digital ecosystem with infrastructure and institutional frameworks.

In 2016 ‘Regulations for Technical Implementation of Mobile Banking, 2016’ were introduced after which the interoperability mechanism between multiple banks and multiple operators was made possible that revolutionized the mobile banking sector in Pakistan.

In light of the Telecom Policy of 2015, Pakistani mobile operators were allowed to spectrum sharing and trade under certain condition. While to ensure better quality of service for the consumers PTA also changed its tower sharing and acquisition regulations.

The monumental decision of PMCL and Warid Telecom was also approved in 2016. It was the one of the biggest event of the industry that change the shape of the ICT industry of Pakistan.

The monumental decision of PMCL and Warid Telecom was also approved in 2016. It was the one of the biggest event of the industry that change the shape of the ICT industry of Pakistan

Consumer Rights Protection

The safeguard of consumer rights has been the top priority of the government over the decade. Creating consumer awareness has been given special importance to keep the public updated about changes in laws and regulation. PTA amended the provisions of “Telecommunication Consumer Protection Regulations, 2009” to protect consumers’ interests. As a result of this, all CMOs stopped Inami/Promotional Schemes and fraudulent prize scams are minimized. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 was also passed by the parliament with an aim to counter rampant online harassment and terrorist content although it drew criticism for severely impacting citizens’ rights to expression and privacy. But we saw many cases filed and culprits brought to justice for harassment and blackmailing online users, especially women. Whereas, the legislation on personal data protection is in draft/Bill stage and yet to be passed by the Parliament.

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 was also passed by the parliament with an aim to counter rampant online harassment and terrorist content

To ensure the provision of better quality of service, Cellular Mobile Quality of Service Regulations, 2011 and broadband Quality of Service Regulations, in 2014 were also introduced.

ICT for Girls

ICT for Girls is the biggest initiative that government took in order to overcome gender disparity in ICT. The programme aimed to train young girls with the latest advancement in technologies. The government established over 150 girls empowerment centers where young girls from the marginalized segment are being trained for coding and computing. MoITT under its USF initiative started this programme in collaboration with Microsoft.

ICT for Girls is the biggest initiative that government took in order to overcome gender disparity in ICT

IT Parks

Technology parks are highly important to improve exports of IT and IT-enabled services (ITES), introduce innovative ideas to create new market place, attract hi-tech business and accelerate the process of transitioning towards a knowledge-based economy.

This helps in creating new jobs and attract foreign investment to increase the overall competitiveness. The ministry through PSEB started the creation of technology parks in 1999 and then during the last decade 15 technology parks were created in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi.

PSEB started the creation of technology parks in 1999 and then during the last decade 15 technology parks were created in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi

National Incubation Center

The National Incubation Center is Pakistan’s largest technology incubation center.

NIC provides a creative space for young entrepreneurs to learn the tricks of the trades. So far, 121 start ups have graduated and made their dream a reality

The ministry of IT and Telecom set a successful example of public-private partnership by collaborating with Ignite – National Technology Fund, Jazz and Teamup.

The center provides a creative space for young entrepreneurs to learn the tricks of the trades. So far, 121 start ups have graduated and made their dream a reality.

Awards and Recognitions

It was a very progressive decade for our ICT industry for which MoITT played an important role with its forward-looking approach and solid efforts, the fact that was recognized by the international community as well.

In 2015, Pakistan was awarded with the prestigious ‘Spectrum for Mobile Broadband Award’ at the Mobile World Congress 2015 held in Barcelona, Spain. Pakistan also won a seat on the ITU Council at the 19th ITU Plenipotentiary Conference held in Busan, South Korea which decided 1 2 members of the Radio Regulations Board (RRB) and 48 members of the ITU Council through an election. In 2016, Pakistan became a member of iTSUN.

In 2017, Pakistan’s efforts for the proliferation of telecom services, and bridging the digital divide was also recognized with the ‘GSMA Government Leadership Award 2017’ at the biggest annual telecom industry gathering at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

Pakistan’s efforts for the proliferation of telecom services, and bridging the digital divide was also recognized with the ‘GSMA Government Leadership Award 2017

What did we miss?

The Telecom and IT sector have come a long way, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. There are a number of issues that are hindering the industry from reaching its truest potential and the Government’s role in sorting out these issues is colossal.

The License renewal saga started last year but sadly no fruitful results came out of it. Ideally, renewal decisions should have been finalized 18-24 months prior to license expiry to ensure service and business continuity. Jazz, Zong and Telenor made the payments as set by PTA but only after taking the matter in court. But unfortunately government has yet to come up with a comprehensive policy plan. This poses as a huge challenge for the regulatory.

The License renewal saga started last year but sadly no fruitful results came out of it

Policies for regularization of OTT and other online services were an important part of Telecom Policy 2015 but no concrete efforts have been taken so far to develop a proper policy for them. Similarly, there hasn’t been any policy formulated for Internet of Things which is quite unfortunate, especially when we are preparing for 5G revolution in the country which is all about faster internet and connected devices.

According to GSMA’s Mobile Gender gap Report 2019, there are 78% male mobile phone users while only 50% female mobile users, creating a mobile gender gap of 37%. The situation of mobile internet users is even bleaker with 38% male mobile internet users and 11% female mobile internet users with 71% mobile broadband gender gap. No substantial initiatives have been taken by the government of the regulatory to close this gender gap. Although PTA cannot remove all the barriers to owning a mobile phone but it can ensure the availability of low-cost mobile devices which is the top barrier preventing mobile ownership for both men and women. PTA needs to apprise its taxation on mobile devices and telecom services so that common people could afford the mobile and telecom service.

There hasn’t been any policy formulated for Internet of Things which is quite unfortunate, especially when we are preparing for 5G revolution in the country which is all about faster internet and connected devices

Low literacy rate and lack of digital  skills are another most important barrier that government can remove by ensuring that handsets are usable and accessible for less literate users is important. According to GSMA, women are often less confident in independently acquiring the digital skills required to use a mobile phone and are more concerned with the consequences of making mistakes. So, creating awareness about the use of mobile phones and the ease internet could bring in lives is very important, something that government should work on in order to create a digitally society. The MoITT’s ICT for Girls started off quite impressively but after some time it lost its momentum. The government should revive the project and keep updating it regularly.

Internet security and data breaches have become a worldwide concern but some countries are better prepared for such situations; unfortunately, Pakistani is not one of them. The major attack of the year started in mid-October, 2018 with Bank Islami that spread across 22 banks in Pakistan and resulted in more the 20,000 cyber robberies. Before that, Careem and Bank Al-Habib data were also stolen whereas; cyber-attacks on various websites have also become a common thing. Pakistan really needs to focus on the development of a comprehensive cyber security strategy to protect its people and government assets.

2020 and ahead

After the advent of 3G/4G mobile technology, our ICT industry faced a sudden boom similarly, a growth spurt is expected after 5G introduction. AI, living robots, flying cars, IoTs, blockchain, hyper automation, all these and many other futuristic technologies will become a reality or at least will be near realization. Government will have to take a proactive role and develop strong policies to facilitate the uptake of modern technologies. We hope that we will be able to overcome our weakness and make the next decade even more progressive.

AI, living robots, flying cars, IoTs, blockchain, hyper automation, all these and many other futuristic technologies will become a reality or at least will be near realization

Rizwana Khan

Dreamer by nature, Journalist by trade.

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