GSMA anticipates sound 3G, 4G growth in Pakistan till 2020

ISLAMABAD -  Around 90 percent of Pakistani population would have access to 3G networks, 80 percent of which are also estimated to enjoy 4G services by year 2020.

Amid heavy investments, 3G coverage in Pakistan – by all operators combined - reached 65 percent of population by 2015, while it stretched to around 75 percent of population by mid-2016, the facts revealed in Global System Mobile Association (GSMA) report.

A web-based portal, ProPakistani, while quoting the statistics given in the report, said 3G coverage had reached 75 percent of Pakistan’s population by mid-2016, 4G coverage reached 18 percent of Pakistan’s population by mid-2016 while 29 percent of Pakistani population use mobile internet (2G, 3G or 4G).

The report said mobile broadband uptake had been slow, mainly due to the fact that many citizens either could not afford it or did not know how to use devices and services that deliver mobile broadband.

With time, mobile broadband (3G and 4G) users in Pakistan are estimated to grow to 60 million by 2020.

With continued investment - it is estimated that investments for 3G network expansion will reach $2.8 billion over next four years (not including any additional spectrum costs) - and it will enable around 90 percent of the population with 3G access, said the report. With only two operators, 4G roll-out has expanded rather slowly and reached 18 percent of the population by mid-2016.

However, with Mobilink acquiring Warid and Telenor beginning 4G services, 4G coverage is expected to rapidly to become accessible to 80 percent of the population by 2020.

The report said today's users would accelerate their transition to mobile broadband from 2G services, with improved network coverage and more affordable smart phones with time. By 2020, mobile broadband will be accessed by about a third of the population, albeit predominantly those shifting from 2G.

Given the lack of fixed line broadband connectivity in Pakistan, the digital divide - between those that have access to the internet and those that do not - will remain substantial.

Pakistan is an emerging digital society. Digitization is still in its early stages, and is used mainly as a tool for accelerating socio-economic development, particularly in improving digital and financial inclusion.

However, through its Vision 2025 strategy, Pakistan aims to complete its transition to a knowledge-based economy, creating a globally competitive and prosperous country that provides a high quality of life for all its citizens.

Vision 2025 envisions a more advanced digital society. Digital development can drive increased engagement between individuals and institutions, provide huge growth potential and productivity gains in all sectors, and enable more advanced and innovative government services.

Pakistan's mobile sector is in a unique position to support the country's digital development for three key reasons:

Mobile can connect more people than any other technology, particularly in underserved rural areas, mobile can provide secure access to a variety of digital services such as health and education and mobile can provide a platform to provide financial inclusion, engaging many people in the economy for the first time.

In parallel, innovative services that run over mobile networks can support many of the government's Vision 2025 objectives, such as increasing enrolment in education, improving food security and driving private sector growth.

Mobile operators in Pakistan are playing their part in innovating to deliver the services that will accelerate progress towards the goals of Vision 2025 - and in doing so generating growth, jobs and investment in wider economy. But they have an opportunity to do more.

Three key areas require immediate attention: a competition policy that considers all market players, not just telecoms service providers, in a technology-neutral environment, aimed at preventing bottlenecks and exclusionary conduct; clear and simplified licensing practices based on function rather than technology or legacy industry structures, which can accommodate the rapidly changing market and encourage investment and innovation; and a new framework for physical network cooperation (including network and spectrum sharing) that is light-touch and focuses on general competition principles and transparency.

There is a real opportunity for the government, institutions, mobile operators and the wider mobile industry to work together to make the regulations a better fit for modern digital ecosystem, the report maintained.

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