To 3G or not to 3G?

Published: May 27, 2011

The writer is CEO and chairman of NetSol Technologies Ltd and former chairman of the Federal Task Force on Information Technology and Communications

With teledensity up to 63 per cent (over 100 million mobile users) in Pakistan, the telecom sector is already contributing three per cent to the GDP, and in 2009, PTA felt that Pakistan was ready for 3G technology.

Since then, we have had numerous seminars on the subject, organised by PTA, which were attended by representatives of all the major telecom companies, government officials and the successive ministers of IT and telecommunication. The most recent seminar wrapped up with the PTA chairman stating that, “By the end of the current quarter, they would be able to roll out plans for 3G services — once the policy is approved by the government.” I ask now, what is the delay?

For two years, the government has said that they are very serious about launching 3G in Pakistan, and yet the only thing we see coming out of such seminars, are more and more statements and false promises of a launch.

Mobile telecommunication has a large and significant impact upon economic growth, besides aiding social development. This impact may be twice as large for a developing country such as Pakistan, with mobile wireless technology, such as 3G, offering the means to enhance mobility and ease in our lives, through improved and sophisticated services. Such technology would allow rural businesses and consumers to be connected and be at par with global news, markets and standards.

3G opens the doors to opportunities such as expansion in commerce, betterment of workplace dynamics, greater citizen access to mobile enabled healthcare and education services and steering the country towards being a more information based society. So far, the telecom industry is the most attractive in terms of foreign direct investment, and reels in almost 30 per cent of it. With 3G services, new ancillary businesses, such as the mobile application development, would open up, where the focus would be on local applications for the general population. This has the potential of greatly escalating the quality and speed of carrying out everyday tasks and business related work.

A couple of years ago, Pakistan was a regional leader in the telecom market. Even after the economic downturn, an opportunity presented itself, where 3G technology could have been launched and the telecom sector could capture a new wave of users, along with being ahead in the global standing. Even after the economic downturn, an opportunity presented itself, where 3G technology could have been launched and the telecom sector could capture a new wave of users, along with being ahead in the global standing.

In 2008, India faced a great crisis with corruption poisoning their telecom sector and resulting in the 2G Spectrum scam that cost the Indian government INR 1,760 billion ($38.9 billion) in damages. The Pakistan economy could never withstand such a tremendous setback, and therefore, the Pakistan government should put serious effort into granting these 3G licenses based on the merit of the company and stick to the proper rules and procedures.

India finally launched 3G in 2010, along with China. Today, even Nigeria and other parts of Africa have launched 3G, and the Middle East has taken a step further to 4G services. We must not waste time, and I urge the government to work with the telecom sector in launching the services. They must figure out a way to support the IT and telecom sectors, allowing them to achieve their true potential and sustain both the economic and social growth of the country.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 27th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Atif
    May 27, 2011 - 1:35AM

    i think the government should replace 3G with 4G/LTE as 3G is also going to be replaced by 4G and it would be difficult for the PTA to get huge licensing fees for 3G, besides, i think the major telecom companies are not ready to give huge bribes to the minister IT which as a matter of fact is not permanent as i think he is the 4th minister in the three years tenure of this government, IT & telecom are on the back burner for this crowd of clowns government, May God help us and bless us.Recommend

  • Usman Khalid
    May 27, 2011 - 1:40AM

    we should have 3G by now…. but we haven’t… so i must say we should go for 4G now so that we can maintain telecom leader status in the region and also we can produce 4G ready engineers, lack of which huge number of engineers couldn’t get jobs in europe when they come here for studies etc….Recommend

  • wahab
    May 27, 2011 - 1:47AM

    I dont understand it.. If companies are willing to invest in 3g, what problem can government have?Recommend

  • Aamer
    May 27, 2011 - 1:59AM

    As a telecom engineer, we should forget 3G now, its already turning into a very old technology, and amazingly as far as we are taught, internet speed on 3G is almost comparable to EDGE-2.5G.

    We need to jump to 3.5G with UMTS. But before i say that, everyone should know that prices of call’s will go up, because going from 2G to 3G or 3.5G means you have to discard all the BTS and replace the entire system with 3G or 3.5G equipment. Its like installing the entire mobile network again.Recommend

  • Muhammad Ziad
    May 27, 2011 - 2:01AM

    It is the problem from the companies end. They apparently are not willing to put purchase such an expensive license proposed by Pta. Although PTA guarantees 4g license included in the 3g license the mobile companies are reluctant to purchase it for a niche elite userbase. Recommend

  • May 27, 2011 - 3:19AM

    3G is the need of the hour. I think people like Salim Ghauri shall come forward and Salim Ghauri shall raise their voices and compel govt to take due actions. Recommend

  • Proud_karachilite
    May 27, 2011 - 4:33AM

    billion) in damages.

    billion) in damages. **> , India faced a great crisis with

    corruption poisoning their telecom
    sector and resulting in the 2G
    Spectrum scam that cost the Indian
    government INR 1,760 billion ($38.9
    billion) in damages.**billion) in damages.

    billion) in damages.

    We cant lose so much revenue !!40 billion dollar :) who will give us 40 billion$ for license!!

    India economy is close to 9 times bigger than ours!!Recommend

  • Arindom
    May 27, 2011 - 4:39AM

    ….make Mr A.Raja the Minister of Telecom in Pakistan and all problems will be solved. Indians would be happy to send Raja to Pakistan.

    (for my Pakistani brothers – Raja is the Indian minister responsible for the $40 billion Telecom scam – now enjoying free Jail food – along with his accomplices)Recommend

  • AnIndian
    May 27, 2011 - 6:25AM

    As the great Writer Jared Diamond points out: Technology is a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition to economic prosperity and development of a country…

    The crucial requirement is that the collective psyche of the society should evolve in order to successfully harness an improvement in technology for economic betterment…

    It’s a Tragic Irony that Tribune articles which picture India have the largest number of views and comments but the articles written about the economy hardly have any comments – which only shows the reluctance of the Pakistan Nation at large to embrace economic progress as the Central Agenda… (check for yourself what I have said)Recommend

  • IRFAN URFI
    May 27, 2011 - 10:08AM

    Well done Mr Ghauri we need yours knowledge sharing !Recommend

  • May 27, 2011 - 10:46AM

    @ Aamer, totally agreed with you. In terms of racketing their finances in order to cover up the costs for launching 3g/4g, there are some simple steps that mobile companies could follow.

    1- to shift their marketing focus from prepaid to postpaid, as a majority customer base for the coming years. this should be accompanied by more competitive price packaging by the companies, and studying international trends in this, would help a lot. Now I am not saying that like Mobile companies in UK, US and Australia, that Pakistani telcos also provide free phones with a 2 year contract, as owing to street crimes, this may not be a worthwhile investment. What I am saying is that mobile companies should buck the international trend of moving towards unlimited plans and packages, like their counterparts in the west have done. This would be immensely profitable.

    2- In the Western countries, considering that you could not get data of 2 to 5 GB for smartphones on any plan of $60 and above, mobile companies here earn far more on data than they do on phone calls or SMS. Mobile companies in Pakistan could take a heed from this too. I have long believed that there needs to be a change in business ethics and values at telecoms in Pakistan. If it is believed that consumers would continue to spend more and more of their time on calls and SMSes and that these two things would account for nearly 95 per cent of the revenues for the telcos, then I do not see that how could 3G services on mobile phones really help in changing consumer’s spending and choices.

    You need to understand that 3G and 4G services, primarily target an audience who uses smart phones, in ways such as downloading applications, browsing youtube, watching live events, news, TV,etc on their mobiles. I would believe that owing to high rates of mobile snatching and free-falling value of the rupee, makes sure that only a small number of people in Pakistan use smart phones like BlackBerry and Apple’s Iphone. Hence, in most regions of Pakistan, putting in place a 3G/4G network might not be feasible economically, socially or environmentally.

    Lastly i should say that for the users in the cities, like Karachi, Lahore and Faisalabad, data pricing on prepaid and post paid should change. Till now, it has generally been priced at Rs 15 per MB, which is not financially feasible for users and expensive by many standards, instead they should have separate data plans which are nominally priced and provide genuine value for service.

    Regards
    Mehroz! Recommend

  • Dianuj Rafaz Nahk
    May 27, 2011 - 12:35PM

    I dont know why are we stuck on 3G cribbing for so long now.Turns out that even a learned man like the Author fell for the 3G cribbing.Sir correct me if i am wrong but Pakistan already has 3G technology in the form of ptcl evo (shocked right…yes it is 3G,now get over it).People in the ICT industry can verify this.Its the half cooked expertise on 3G that makes an average pakistani beleive as if 3G is the technology to be and not having a 3G is a huge curse on this country since even Nigeria has it.
    Its just the bandwidth that differs a 3G network from a 2G network,NUTHIGNELSE :)

    @Aamir :your assertion about prices going up cuz of installing entire mobile network is wrong.The prices will go up but not for this reason.Note that Except for one China based operator,all other operators have their backbone (ipmpls) 3g Ready..The delay is at the govts side since its hasnt come up with 3G SOPs yet.Please verify your facts before publishing them on public forums and thus misguiding people. Recommend

  • May 27, 2011 - 12:54PM

    I think we should from 2g to 4g which is best idea.Recommend

  • Aamer
    May 27, 2011 - 4:23PM

    @Dianuj Rafaz Nahk:
    Actually only Telenor is 3G ready, thanks to Nokia Siemens. But 3G standards require not only fast data rates, infact for full 3G you need a UMTS network, for better voice quality too.

    Plus 3G on PTCL EVO is different from 3G Mobile networks. In PTCL EVO, only those areas are covered where PTCL EVO antennas exist. If 3G Mobile networks are introduced, you’ll have 3G internet as long as you have reception on your phone.

    Example is of a farm house near Lucky Cement(superhighway), PTCL EVO doesnt work over there, but ofcourse needless to say all mobile networks are present in that vicinity. If we had 3G networks we could be running on fast internet no matter where we are.Recommend

  • amarjamali
    May 27, 2011 - 7:12PM

    we must move toward 3g as soon as possible.Recommend

  • Hassan Farooqi
    May 27, 2011 - 9:32PM

    As an IT professional, I already knew that Pakistan was a dumping ground for obsolete American technology. Now as a telecom specialist, I know it even more. Now that the USA is dumping 3G for LTE, the technology will come to Pakistan. What more? The defense experts will tell you the first F16′s we so proudly received were the outdated ones.Recommend

  • Dianuj Rafaz Nahk
    May 28, 2011 - 3:28AM

    @Aamer:
    When i said backbone i was referring to the Core which is 3G ready for both Telenor,Mobilink (nsn again) and ufone aswell.Further,as long as you have a reception on evo u can use its high speed data services in a moving car so the point is that the bandwidth differs but what we are using in evo is a third generation network,though not have voice over it is a different story.Recommend

  • Zulfikar
    Jun 21, 2011 - 7:49PM

    The most important thing in this scenario is the economic factor,as we know that many cell phone users are using it like an old telephone,even many of them don’t know how to do simple transactions from scratch cards and save new numbers to contacts!!! only the youth (a little no. of grown-ups also) is using GPRS and in youth many of the guys use to see photos (not videos ;) ) and a really really small no. of nerds and geeks remain to really understand the mobile computing and have access to high end smart phones running android, Symbian, win7. whats in it for GSM providers to launch 3G? nothing! why take all the trouble and invest so much money for small no of people? peace!Recommend

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