ISLAMABAD - Pakistan’s fixed broadband network is grossly inadequate in servicing the rising internet demands of the country. If Pakistan does not upgrade its fixed broadband infrastructure to a high speed fibre optic network, Pakistan’s digital potential will continue to be under-realised. These are findings of the policy think tank Tabadlab’s latest working paper titled The Fixed Broadband Challenge: Building the Runway for Pakistan’s Economic Take-Off.
Internet in Pakistan is inhibited by spectrum challenges, a slow progression towards next generation connectivity, and a high reliance on mobile broadband - robust and expanded fixed-line infrastructure is critical for reliable high speed connectivity. Authored by Umar Nadeem, Aliza Amin, and Navid Qazi, the working paper assesses the core Internet infrastructure landscape in Pakistan. The authors examine the supply-side limitations of Pakistan’s fixed line connectivity. Their work finds that Pakistan’s policy and regulatory space is not equipped to meet the country’s increasing internet needs.
At present, the average monthly data demand stands at 8 to 10 gigabytes per user which will need support from a robust fibre optic backbone. There are less than 250,000 fibre-to-the-home connections. Only 9% of mobile towers are connected to a fibre optic network (the international benchmark is over 40%). All this adds up to a quality of service that is not equipped to accelerate the Digital Pakistan dream.
According to estimates, an investment of at least $6 billion is required to address the potential target pool of 10 million house passes. An investment of this magnitude is beyond the current capacity and intent of existing service providers who are investing around $100 to $150 million per annum on fixed broadband.
Tabadlab’s working paper recommends that the first step towards addressing Pakistan’s fixed broadband challenge is for the government to create a national broadband strategy that centres the role of fibre optic. The authors illustrate areas where the current policy landscape will require greater attention: clearly defined objectives and longer-term outcomes; policy frameworks devised to protect both business and consumer interests; robust implementation and accountability that optimises the number of implementing bodies needed; and coherence among different policies that centres outcomes enabled through digital. Umar Nadeem, a founding partner at Tabadlab, said: “This market has the potential for 15x growth in fibre-to-the-home connections. At the current rate of investment and the corresponding increase in supply, this potential may not be realised for another 20 years. This will only change when Pakistan improves how it treats telecom investors on matters of taxation, regulation, and institutional support.”