A couple of years ago, all were ready to auction the spectrum for 3G/4G services. Thrice the process for auction was initiated. However, attempts remained unsuccessful due to some policy decisions. After the general elections of 2013, the new government took up the matter and directed PTA to initiate the process.
Pakistan is going to join the global technology race and would be equipped with modern 3G/4G technology in a few weeks. However, following questions needed to be answered so as to fully utilize this technology:
- What would be the gains by adopting this technology?
- Most importantly: What steps should be taken to get maximum benefits of this technology?
The SDPI’s Study Group on IT and Telecom met on April 15, 2014. The following paragraphs contain the recommendations, proceedings and discussion of the meeting:
SDPI Senior Advisor Brig. (Retd) Muhammad Yasin started the proceedings with a welcome note. Briefing the participants about SDPI, he said it is a public interest think tank, which carries out policy oriented research on sustainable development issues, including social, energy, poverty, health, education, macroeconomics, agriculture governance, and ICT. Besides providing policy briefs and policy recommendations to the government, it also advocates on issues of public interest and imparts high quality training to individuals and organizations to build their capacity on sustainable development.
SDPI Executive Director Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri evincing SDPI’s interest in 3G/4G spectrum auction and adoption of this technology, said that the technology is important to SDPI because SDPI is working in the areas of sustainable development, like macroeconomics, governance, health, education, agriculture and ICT in which this technology will make the required contribution. SDPI’s interest also lies in reducing the digital divide and poverty reduction through enhanced employment.
Dr Ijaz Shafi Gillani, the Chairman of Gallup Pakistan and Chair of the Study Group, explained the working of the Study Group on Information Technology and Telecom. He said that the SDPI’s Study Group on IT and Telecom brings together experts from various fields and deliberates on matters in the ICT field. He added that Pakistan was able to get access to internet before other countries in the region, which indicates the impact and significance of policy recommendations from such meetings. He also mentioned some of the achievements of the Study Group in liberalizing, deregulating and privatizing the ICT sector.
- Dr Aamir Matin, former Chief Executive Pakistan Software Export Board, and Member of the Board of ICT R&D Fund
- Mr Parvez Iftikhar, International ICT Consultant, former Chief Executive Universal Service Fund
Main points of Dr Aamir Matin’s presentation
Topic: “3G/4G Technology: Need for a Plan”
He drew a comparison between the motorway and the information highway, explaining that motorways reduced pressure on the large cities by opening up industrial zones and employment opportunities in newer/smaller towns along the motorway. Similarly, with examples he explained the benefits of eServices that could come from faster internet, once the 3G/4G networks are rolled out. Main issues highlighted during the presentation were as under:-
a. There should be some future policies regarding bringing in new technologies or enhancing the existing ones
We should know the importance of our own research in our market and our needs rather than asking someone from the USA or some other country to tell us about some technology.
There may be no major change in the utilization of mobile services as there is less number of mobile subscribers using smart phones, e.g.90% mobile subscribers do not have smart phones, while only 10% use smart phones.
We lack in defining long-term goals to improve the policies or any other research oriented work by any of the governing bodies.
Short-term and long-term goals for 3G/4G should be defined.
- Short-Term Goals
- Creating jobs
- Boost economy
- Long-Term Goals are
- Reduce Digital Divide
- Enhance Economic Activity/Productivity
f. Since 3G/4G services are beneficial, therefore, focus should be on improvement in basic education system, public awareness for e-services, and health.
g. Even if the needed policies are made, who will be responsible for their implementation? PTA? Or Ministry of Information Technology? Or someone else? This is the vital point.
Main points of Parvez Iftikhar’s presentation
Topic: “Implementation Strategy of 3G/4G”
He laid out the strategy to implement a broadband plan that would allow e-services in the area of education, governance, health, agriculture/livestock, etc. Main issues highlighted during the presentation were as under:
The main and ultimate purpose of 3G and 4G is “using broadband to deliver services to citizens”. That’s what is next!
- All types of technologies are useless if they do not serve people. The aim of a new technology is to effectively provide benefits to all.
- We are behind the developing nations in e-readiness. The reason behind this is not broadband availability, because we have good quality of internet in our major cities, our schools and colleges are equipped with internet, but because broadband is available ONLY in the cities, we do not have the necessary content in local languages and, therefore, it is not being utilized for societal benefits, and we have no system of monitoring and evaluations of policies.
- The Next Generation Mobile Services provide a high-speed pathway to benefit from the e-services. E-services like eEducation, eGovernence, eHealth and eAgriculture – in local languages run more effectively and efficiently using broadband. Some of these citizen services are being developed and deployed by provincial governments, but there is a lack of coordination, leading to non-sharing of experiences and wastage of resources.
- We need to devise a compressive plan, which should include institutional arrangements, top level commitment, and funding.
The discussion included viewpoints from different stakeholders on the issues highlighted in the presentations. Following were the main discussion points:
- 2G was a revolutionary technology if seen from the user end, which promoted the wireless technology and provided remote connectivity. 3G may not create as much impact other than broadband, as PTCL and other companies are already providing wireless broadband at low cost.
- It will be a while before we see how 3G/4G technology will help the business sector and general public, and what will be its impact on regional market.
- New policies should be made for research and development along with future goals for new technologies and improvement in existing ones.
- We should not be cynical about the auction and upcoming technologies just because the other sectors also require aggressive revolutionary changes, rather we should appreciate the fact that Pakistan is going to have latest technologies, which will help improve lifestyles.
- Finally, the Chair requested PTA Chairman Dr Ismail Shah to give his comments. He made the following points:-
- Auction process started in October 2013 and after three unsuccessful attempts, it is finally going to be held on April 23, 2014.
- No new operator has applied for license; the auction will be electronic, as it is the most efficient way and is widely adopted by the modern world.
- Technology enhancements always have more benefits than drawbacks.
- Many applications will be used on 3G/4G networks, which will be useful for everyone.
- Instead of individual efforts, we need collective efforts for organizing the system and its implementation so that the system continues to bring in new developments, even if some planners move on.
- PTA is in the process of coming up with a plan for the Telecom Sector in consultation with all the stakeholders, including representatives from the industry.
[The 3G/4G spectrum has since been auctioned for USD 1.18 billion. One frequency band in 4G will be auctioned later]