Pakistan Telecommunication Authority carried out an independent Quality of Service (QoS) survey for Mobile Operators Network Services in the Lahore region from 15th -28th February 2021 and 3rd – 8th March 2021. During the 20 days test, PTA measured the performance and service quality of Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). Not surprisingly, all telcos failed the QoS mobile broadband internet services test. While the performance of these operators is not up to the standard, the question arises: “Who is to Blame”? The operators who are trying to provide mobile broadband services to their customers or PTA our regulatory authority and the Government who has not been able to conduct a single spectrum auction for the past 3.5 years? The last Auction was done in 2017 during the last Government rather 3 auctions were done in a short period of time from 2014 to 2017 that has enabled Pakistan to embrace mobile broadband technologies otherwise this country would be literally in dark ages if those initiatives were not done in that regime.
Spectrum is considered like oxygen for mobile operators to offer services i.e. both in terms of coverage and capacity. While spectrum is the main factor in driving cellular growth but unfortunately, it is always neglected in Pakistan. Pakistan’s telecom industry is the most deprived sector in the world provided, with only one-third of the total spectrum being deployed by them. In comparison with neighboring countries, the spectrum assigned to operators is ominously less due to delay in spectrum allocation and high prices adversely affecting the investor’s choices. Shockingly, no additional spectrum has been made available since 2017 when the number of mobile subscribers were 145 million and Mobile Broadband Subscribers around 40 Mn. Now Pakistan has 183 million mobile subscribers and Mobile Broadband Subscribers over 83 Mn i.e., almost double but the spectrum is still the same. Isn’t it ironic? With the increasing numbers of subscribers, more spectrum should have been ensured.
3.5 years no Spectrum Auction
Even during the initial lockdown, a surge in internet traffic was observed, due to which telecom service providers demanded additional spectrum to fulfill the growing connectivity needs of users. It was a big challenge to meet the growing needs of users in a limited spectrum, but the government did not even release a temporary spectrum to help operators cope with the situation as was done by some other regulators who were alive to the situation, whereas PTA kept sleeping. In the absence of adequate Spectrum as in Pakistan, more investment is needed for putting more towers and capacity into their networks. In this situation, customers had to face poor network coverage and quality with increased prices. On Speed Test Global Index, Pakistan is unfortunately ranked 111th out of 140 countries in mobile internet speed. This is due to the breaks applied in allocating no Spectrum in the past couple of years that resulted in deteriorating Quality of Services.
Sadly, alongside this, the situation on the FDI investment front also deteriorated as telecoms sector net outflow showed only USD 63 million during the 09th Month of the current fiscal year a sharp decline even from last year’s net inflows of USD 465 million during the same period. A Telecom expert commenting on the situation also attributed PTAs slow response to any spectrum auction in the last few years due to NAB inquiries initiated as this shock the confidence of the regulator as well as the mobile network operators. It may take a while for the market to recover from the NAB misadventures into the very complex and technical telecom industry. The Government’s recent announcement to complete an auction process for an unsold spectrum of 2014 Auction is seen as a first step if market confidence can be restored and the wait for the spectrum allocation for 3.5 years might end after all.