3G in Pakistan


New generation is keen to learn thru Internet!

Irrespective of the on-going, completely unnecessary, “controversy” surrounding auction of 3G in Pakistan, allotting 3G frequencies to telecom operators is extremely urgent and essential for Pakistan. We have already been left behind by others who used to be our followers in 2G. Mobile broadband – or 3G – should have been introduced here already four years ago. The delay has made us lose huge opportunities relating to job creation, international trade, economic growth and Foreign Direct Investment (Telecom FDI 2007: US$1,824 mil and 2011: US$ 79 mil). Not to mention letting the technology gap between the advanced countries and us widen even more, despite the fact that more than 70% of our population is below 35 – normally considered early adopters of modern technology.

According to ITU’s World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Database, a total of 159 economies worldwide have launched 3G services commercially and the number of active mobile-broadband subscriptions has surpassed one billion. Countries from New Zealand to USA are allocating huge amounts of national resources to deploy infrastructure, like Optic Fiber Cables, to facilitate delivery of broadband to the citizens. Whereas we are taking ages even to allocate the God-given resource of frequency-spectrum which will facilitate provision of broadband.

Some skeptics ask what we will do with 3G? Mostly they are only thinking in terms of mobile phones – and not mobile broadband. Although a lot could be done with 3G smart phones too (present estimate 15 mil smart phones in Pakistan, expected to increase to 50 mil by 2016), it is 3G mobile broadband, mainly using USB dongles, complementing fixed broadband, that is of bigger value and main attraction for countries like ours. While people in developed countries usually use mobile-broadband in addition to the fixed, mobile-broadband is often the only access method available to people in developing countries.

Broadband has tremendous commercial usages but one of it’s main benefits lies in it’s capability as a deliverer of basic services to hundreds of millions of citizens, especially those living in the hinterlands of the country. Education, Health, Governance, Commerce, Agriculture, Women Empowerment,… all can find their way. Greater access to broadband services has been found to help accelerate achievement of development targets like the internationally-agreed Millennium Development Goals. It is only using broadband that we can serve our exploding population (CAGR: 2.5%) at their doorsteps, not only to bring prosperity to them but also prevent mass migration to urban centers and save our bursting mega-cities from crumbling under their own weight.

Right now in Pakistan broadband is available in less than 300, small and big, towns and cities. All the present two million connections being of fixed broadband category (50% wireless). But then there is only so much fixed technologies can do. Fortunately, thanks to the ubiquitous 2G GSM network, 3G can take broadband to every nook and corner of the country, becoming accessible to more than 90% population, with relatively small effort. I have deliberately used the word “effort” and not investment because investment will come from private sector telecom operators. Here is a sector where the government doesn’t need to bother about development budget allocations and resource constraints. Just like 2G was such an effective engine of growth for our economy, 3G too could contribute significantly. Admittedly the private sector operators would like to invest and deploy 3G mainly in large cities, but for the rest there is USF!

As for the controversy, firstly, on a per-megahertz-per-year basis, the announced base price is equal to the peak price achieved last time around. Secondly it is likely to go higher during bidding, despite worse political/economic/security situation than in 2004. And thirdly the licenses are going to be technology-neutral, therefore it is the operators who would decide whether they deploy 3G or something else (incidentally 4G – the so-called LTE Advanced — is not even there yet). Yes, the only thing that all of us need to be vigilant about and jealously guard is the process being followed. The process must be fair and transparent.

3G in Pakistan

14 thoughts on “3G in Pakistan”

  1. Great article Pervez Sb – despite being several thousand kilometers away from Motherland – it is heartening to see someone with such vision and ability as you.

  2. Nice informative article, but what is great about having 3G this year why not in 2013.if we can wait 4 years why not one more year..

  3. Really an eye opener, as mentioned in his article,” economic growth and Foreign Direct Investment reduced (Telecom FDI 2007: US$1,824 mil and 2011: US$ 79 mil)” which shows that if we have to keep rolling this ball bringing new technology in our HOME LAND, and grasp the new technology which will brings lot of opportunities for our upcoming generations, as we have the best percentage of Youngster in our population of 180 million,
    We have to learned from our past that in early 80”s we don’t have the optical fiber infrastructure and FLAG offer to land in Karachi, which was we missed and they landed in Bangalore, after that era, India become the silicon valley, once they have connectivity with the world with fiber optic,
    This time we need to force the private sector (operators) to invest ASAP in 3G and LTE technology, which will help us not only to produce experts in latest technology also export these Human Resource to worldwide.
    “LTE is a standard for wireless data communications technology and an evolution of the GSM/UMTS standards. The goal of LTE is to increase the capacity and speed of wireless data networks using new DSP (Digital Signal Processing) techniques and modulations that were developed in the beginning of the new millennium. Its wireless interface is incompatible with 2G and 3G networks, and so it must be operated on a separate wireless spectrum.”

  4. Hi,

    It is indeed a very awesome post and well explained. 3G is the hottest topic in ICT Industry of Pakistan and i read about the auction being delayed. Well, i need to know that how did you came up with these figures you have used in your post and i quote, “present estimate 15 mil smart phones in Pakistan, expected to increase to 50 mil by 2016” ?? Can you please share the source.



    1. The smartphone figures are estimated by Ericsson as presented by them at PTA’s 2nd Investment Awareness Conference in Karachi on 21-Jan-2012. The whole 10-year forecast of Ericsson, in form of a graph is also available at PTA’s website (http://www.pta.gov.pk/media/pres210112/ericsson_230112.pdf).
      The figure of 15 m smartphones was also mentioned by KASB in their presentation at the same conference. This presentation is also available on PTA’s website (http://www.pta.gov.pk/media/pres210112/kasb_230112.pdf).

  5. Dear Sir, I totally agree with your article; that now its time that we should move forward. Like in PTCL we have launched GPON services and we can now say that we have entered into the new age of HSI (but fixed network) and standing with the world (to some extent). The ultimate goal is wireless HSI, without any restriction and limitation. Things should be promoted and educated on every level by both the sectors; we too are part of it.

  6. A good article with sound arguments. No doubt access to internet should be the right of every citizen of Pakistan and mobile broadband is the quickest and cheapest way to provide it. Over the last year the boundries of mobile broadband have expanded and are not confined to dongles/ modems that you plug into your PC/laptop. Tablets is one of the highest growth segments of Mobile broadband besides handsets being used as modems and 3G supported WiFi routers.

    The technologies currently available to provide mobile broadband at a “respactable” speed (>1Mbps) and has the backing of international standardization bodies are
    1. 3G with the implmentation of HSPA/HSPA+ providing peak speed upto 42Mbps (typical enduser speed 8Mbps)
    2. WiMax (802.16m) peak speed upto 110Mbps
    3. LTE (TDD/FDD) providing peak speed upto 150Mbps (typical enduser speed 30Mbps).

    Selection of the right technology would first depend of the available UHF band, while these technologies can be band neutral, the device ecosystem is not. If multiple bands are available then factors like existing network grid, device cost, required investment and future evolution would play key part in technology selection.

    It high time that such analysis is conducted jointly by the PTA and Opcos.

  7. A good informative and educative article indeed. Being technology neutral gives flexibility to operators. What actually is missing is the mind set of authorities, and people who do matter. As rightly said people think in terms of ‘Telephony”, whereas 3G goes much beyond telephony. On human development programmes even in UN after food & shelter it is the “Communication” that drives the development. People should be informed/ told with practical examples the 3G usage focusing on our rural areas requirements.

    I remember once Parvez told me the positive change that occurred after installing a cell site running on solar panels in rural THAR area of Sindh. The most basic told by one peasant was that when a snake bite occurs in the desert they can inform their family using a mobile phone, which was not possible before. I am not saying that 3G is meant for this but what I am saying is the 3G usage benefits should be informed with similar practical examples so that people who matter take interest in this matter instead sitting on the fence as if they have nothing to do with this.

    Zubairs comments above are of interest. I was wondering what are the usages/ practices in the Deserts of Australia. Can we draw any similarities.


  8. Mobile Data Connectivity (3G or LTE) is no more a luxury, it is a necessity. As rightly mentioned by Parvez in his article, Pakistan is already very late in introducing this technology. The tremendous benefits of 3G/LTE have already been highlighted by many commentators above. Needless to mention here that this technology might have saved few people from the imminent death due to the adultered medicine dispensed to patients in Lahore, Punjab.
    This article is really a wake-up call.

  9. Very delighted to see your passion and efforts for nation. This is a awesome effort to bring lives of people to get aligned with speed of progress, the way entire world is coming along. We really need leaders like to make development efforts to educate & bring quality of life for deserved & progressive nation.



  10. Good to read your article supporting wireless broadband. I fully share your views. I still remember my days at Ufone when we launched WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), GPRS (2.5G) & Multimedia Messaging Services (MMS) as early as 2001/2002 in anticipation of future needs/trends. That brought Pakistan at par or in some cases ahead of the developed markets of the World. Though we faced some criticism at that time about the need and viability of introducing these technologies but time proved it otherwise. In fact our initiative laid the foundation of mobile internet & data services and prompted the potential for wireless broadband technologies like Wimax/3G/4G/LTE in the country. The growing demand of data services coupled with convergence of telecom, media & information technology is quickly changing the revenue models of the operators. Although late by few years as rightly pointed out in the article, we need to quickly regain our technology leadership role while ensuring transparency and fairness of the process.

  11. Shouldn’t we be thinking of 4G instead of worrying about obsolete 3G? All this time and effort and money is being wasted on bringing obsolete technology to Pakistan.

  12. This is a very nice article Mr. Pervez. However, i think you also need to explain a bit about 3G content development for Pakistan, which is i think the backbone of 3G services uptake in Pakistan.

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