ISLAMABAD - The contribution of telecom sector in Pakistan so far is best indicative of potential and opportunities it offers in an era of digitalization. 

Notwithstanding the fact that cellular sectors worldwide are facing revenue and growth challenges of their own due to saturation, evolving needs, technology changes, ever increasing competition and high costs, there is a lot of growth potential that impacts socio-economic indicators in developing  countries and Pakistan is no exception.

The country is undergoing challenging times with its financial problems and need for further funds for urgent and pressing projects. In part, the solution to problem lies in shifting more  focus on telecom sector and continuing to reap benefits through this goldmine of opportunities.

Therefore, role of Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications and particularly  Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has become pivotal for economic growth and  employment generation.

A comprehensive picture of telecom sector performance in Pakistan during one year showed that with ever increasing mobile subscription in Pakistan, today, the mobile subscribers figure stands at 153 million, giving boost to the total tele-density which stands at 74 per cent as of November 2018.

Broadband subscribers as of November 2018, stands at almost 63 million with its penetration  crossing 30 per cent mark. The 3G and 4G users also reached 61 million till November 2018. The telecom sector contributed over Rs. 150 billion to national exchequer in form of General

Sales Tax (GST), Withholding Tax (WHT) and PTA deposits including license fees, spectrum fees etc.  in addition to levies by local governments and custom duties by Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).

Total telecom sector revenue reported during Fiscal Year 2017-18 was Rs. 488.7 billion showing  3.96 per cent growth in one year. Total investment made in telecom sector in year 2017-18 was US $ 670 million of which Foreign  Direct Investment (FDI) inflow was US$ 247 million. Overall, the financial health of the sector remained stable and networks continued to grow and add more and more subscribers.

When contacted Chairman PTA, Muhammad Naveed said being sector’s regulator, PTA is focusing on supporting future digital services for the benefit of wider economy.

PTA’s strategies are evolving to address the new, emerging digital priorities of Pakistan. With 5G on global horizon, the government of Pakistan issued a policy directive for introduction and trials of 5G wireless networks. PTA will also hold consultation session with all stakeholders in near future.

PTA also issued number of regulations in one year for convenience of all stakeholders. These regulations include Subscriber Antecedents Verification Regulations (amendment) 2017, Mobile Device Identification Registration and Blocking Regulations 2017 and Type Approval Technical Standards Regulations 2017. The regulator, in collaboration with State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), issued first ever TPSP license to Virtual Remittance Gateway (Pvt) Ltd after detailed technical evaluation of company.

This was done to support government’s vision of enhancing financial inclusion and impetus the digital payments in the country.

The Chairman said PTA as a part of National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS) is also collaborating with SBP to achieve its targets. SBP has taken an initiative of Innovative Challenge Facility for digital payments in Pakistan and PTA being its evaluation committee member extended cooperation to SBP. With continuous collaboration and support of financial and telecom regulators, significant growth in Digital Financial Services (DFS) has been witnessed in the country with enabling environment, improving policies, laws and regulations.

According to Findex 2017, account ownership in Pakistan has increased to 21 per cent up from 13 per cent in 2014.  This increase has been significantly contributed by branchless/mobile banking accounts which have crossed 39 million mark. Since the biometric verification of mobile connections in 2015, 23.5 million new branchless banking accounts have been added to the market.

However, with over 153 million biometrically verified mobile connections across the country, we are still well  short of Digital Financial Services (DFS) growth potential.

During 2017-18, regulators and key players in the DFS market  have taken many initiatives to continue pace of DFS growth.

During one year, Ministry of IT and PTA spurred digital ecosystem in Pakistan with active involvement of all stakeholders. This was done through numerous sustainable development and accelerated digitization projects, research and innovation,  Software Technology Parks, subsidized bandwidth, international marketing,  international certifications, internships and trainings.

Incentives like 100% equity ownership, 100% repatriation of profit, tax exemption on IT and IT Enabled Services (ITeS) export revenues, tax exemptions to startups and subsidized state of the art software technology parks are some areas that have been focused for accelerating digital revolution in Pakistan.

PTA also introduced an online web based portal system where consumers can apply online for No Objection Certificate (NOC) and get no time. This effort is to stop the illegal import and use of the same within sub-standard and non-approved or smuggled SIM based  Information and Communication Technology (ICT) devices into the country.

During one year PTA addressed 40,000 (approx.) complaints against respective telecom operators.

So far PTA has blocked 824,878 URLs out of which 31,963 blasphemy websites have been blocked by PTA. PTA also conducted Quality of Service (QoS) Surveys to provide efficient service to consumers.

“I strongly believe that telecoms can connect more people than any other technology, particularly in under served rural areas. It can provide secure access to a variety of digital services such as health and education and can provide a platform for financial inclusion, engaging many people in economy for first time,”  the Chairman said.

The telecom, in particular can spur entire economy starting from driving the private sector to enrollment in education to improving food provision, enhancing government’s productivity and ensuring national security.