In a sign that Pakistan is fast catching up with the global trend, the explosive growth of mobile broadband, such as third-generation (3G) and 4G or long-term evolution (LTE) technologies, has changed dynamics of the country’s broadband market.
Almost non-existent two years ago, the high-speed mobile internet now accounts for 88% of the broadband market.
According to an analysis by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the telecom sector’s regulatory body, the country’s broadband segment has been through a major change over the past year, noting how existing fixed line and other wireless technologies proved to be no match for mobile broadband.
advancement by providing high-speed data services to the consumers. Broadband connectivity historically remained dependent on the fixed line solutions and limited to the geographical boundaries that were deemed profitable by the operators.
However, a true revolution began with the introduction of wireless internet connectivity on hand-held devices, particularly 3G, 4G/LTE, in the last decade or so, the PTA says of the global trend.
At present, mobile broadband is the most dynamic market segment with a global penetration of 47% in 2015, a value that increased 12 times since 2007, according to the International Telecom Union.
When it comes to broadband evolution in Pakistan, the trend is no different.
Timeline of evolution
In 2001, Micronet launched Pakistan’s first-ever digital subscriber line (DSL) service. By 2009, internet users in Pakistan were able to experience 3G speeds of up to 3.1 megabits per second as the country embraced new broadband technologies, such as fibre-to-the-home (FTTH), WiMAX (a wireless digital communications system), and Evolution Data Optimised (EvDO) – a 3G mobile broadband technology.
However, the broadband market went through a major shift after the introduction of mobile broadband in 2014.
The country’s broadband sector remained the sole domain of the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL), which enjoyed 80% share in the segment at the end of June 2014.
However, things changed dramatically since the April-2014 auction of 3G and 4G licences, which brought the high-speed internet to handheld devices.
Shift in dynamics
The current broadband subscriber share presents a clear view of the change in the dynamics over the past year. For example, PTCL is not the leader in the broadband segment anymore, rather it slid to the fourth position at the end of FY2015, the PTA noted, adding the broadband segment has become very competitive now.
A breakdown of statistics shows Telenor Pakistan was leading the market with a 24.7% share followed by Mobilink, which constituted 21.7% of the broadband segment at the end of FY15. China Mobile (Zong) had a 17.8% share while PTCL was placed at number four with a 15.8% share.
The statistics clearly indicate the shift in broadband market from fixed line and WiMAX to mobile internet. Mobile broadband now accounts for 88% of the total broadband base in Pakistan while the share of fixed line DSL stands at 5.7% and wireless EvDO at 5% (in December 2015).
With its internet density in the 12% range, Pakistan is still far behind the global average but the uptick in adoption of mobile broadband certainly indicates the country is following the global trend and is likely to improve the number on the back of growing demand for on-the-go data services – as evident from the consumption of data on mobile broadband networks.
Data revenues of cellular mobile operators (CMOs) increased by more than three times during the last five years and constituted a quarter of the telecom sector’s total turnover at the end of FY15.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2016.