Muhammad Arif Sargana
INFORMATION Communication Technologies (ICTs) is top priority of the Government of Pakistan. Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), as a sector regulator, has come a long way in implementing its vision of ensuring high quality ICT services in Pakistan. Rounds of deregulation and progress licensing for the provision of advance ICT services by PTA and the government has become role model for many countries. There is a long list of achievements of the regulator and the industry. The very recent milestones include spectrum auctions for next generation networks and enhancing digital inclusion of the masses in the development process through advanced technologies. These milestones have enabled us to reap the benefits of progress in artificial intelligence and related fields including Internet of Things (IoT), big data analytics and cloud-computing by improving a wide range of sectors/services in the economy including education, health, finance, transportation and agriculture.
Pakistan has made ICTs an integral part of the overall economic growth strategy and to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). The government, regulator and private sector are working together to capitalize on enriching the digital profile of the country whereby they are implementing forward looking initiatives that places ICTs at the nucleus of our national strategy to achieve SDGs. PTA is also actively participating in the International Telecommunication Union’s forums and global dialogues on the use of artificial intelligence and IoT to assist the citizen centric services in smart cities and new digital opportunities.
The government’s vision of a digital economy is being implemented by PTA in a most befitting manner. PTA has adopted a progressive approach for the provision of advanced telecom and broadband access to the citizens of Pakistan through international fibre optic cables, backhaul networks and wireless solution including 3G, 4G, LTE: today, cellular mobile signals cover more than 87% of Pakistan’s population, of which, 70% have access to 3G services and 30% have access to 4G/LTE services. Broadband services have become a thing of common use which is spread across the country. One of the fastest growing telecom services in Pakistan is broadband with annual growth rate of 40% during 2017. Today, there are over 149 million mobile connections and over 56 million broadband subscribers in Pakistan, which were only 5.2 million at end of June 2014. Increased broadband penetration has resulted in availability of alternate communication applications.
With all the difficulties at hand, telecom sector stands tall in the economy and showed improvement in revenues in the year 2017 whereby total telecom revenues stood at Rs. 467,642 million, total investment crossed US$ 635 Million and Foreign Direct Investment inflows remained at US$ 116 million. Telecom sector remains significant contributor to national exchequer and almost contributed approximately Rs. 162 billion in 2017. These contribution included GST, withholding tax, custom duty other taxes and PTA’s deposits.
To ensure healthy device ecosystem in Pakistan, PTA has recently launched Device Identification and Blocking System (DIRBS), – a major step towards stopping illegal import of mobile handsets. With this system in place no illegal mobile phone can be connected to any CMO network. Similarly, PTA has played a pivotal role in taking digital financial services to higher level while working hand in hand with State Bank of Pakistan on the National Financial Inclusion Strategy.
PTA is also making efforts to facilitate the digital ecosystem in the country by working hand in hand with the ecosystem agents. Few examples include Assan Mobile Account Scheme of SBP, Smart Schools initiative by Jazz, Election Pakistan Portal, Telenor’s ICHAMP initiative that will enhance digital awareness in the schools and National Incubation Centres as new technology hubs are those initiatives that will go a long way in making Pakistan visible digitally across the region.
Looking ahead, PTA plans to undertake important initiatives in the coming years that will bring significant innovations in the ICT sector of Pakistan. In view of the extraordinary demand of the broadband, PTA is working on the rationalisation and refarming of spectrum, smooth renewal of cellular mobile licenses, robust international connectivity through multiple sub-marine cables and continuous availability of spectrum for high end broadband technologies in the country. Similarly, PTA shall also be conducting 3G, 4G LTE spectrum auction in AJK & GB once Policy Directives are issued by the AJK & GB Councils. Regulatory Framework on Remedies and Solutions for Wireless Local Loop (WLL) services will be implemented for the betterment of this segment. PTA is vigilant of the advanced technology and regulatory trends in the ICT sector and is continuously updating its regulatory framework to meet the challenges and ensuring availability of latest technologies to the citizens of Pakistan.