The stellar progress of the telecom sector has resulted in highest-ever revenue (PKR 644 billion) being generated in FY 2021, compared to PKR 592 billion in the previous year. As per Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Annual Report 2021 released recently, the sector also attracted US$ 202 million in the shape of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and contributed PKR 226 billion to the national exchequer.
With successful spectrum auctions and license renewals in Pakistan, and Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJ&K) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) during the period, an amount of US$ 486 million (FY 2021-till date) has been generated. Broadband services reached a remarkable milestone of 100 million subscribers in March 2021, now standing at 110 million. 50% of the country’s population has subscribed to broadband, with the bulk (49%) consisting of mobile broadband connections.
Telecom and ICT services have a nationwide spread, covering over 89% of the population with teledensity reaching 87%, and cellular mobile penetration reaching over 86%. Similarly, the number of cellular subscribers rose to 188 million, taking the total telecom subscriber base to 191 million. With the expansion of 3G and 4G services, in tandem with the impact of COVID-19, broadband data usage increased by 52% during FY 2021. On the direction of the regulator, cell sites of Cellular Mobile Operators (CMOs) in Waziristan were upgraded for 4G to provide high-speed connectivity to marginalized segments in unserved areas.
The Annual Report also mentions the huge success of Device Identification, Registration and Blocking System (DIRBS) by PTA. It has proven to be a catalyst for establishing Pakistan as a major manufacturer of mobile devices. PTA has so far issued mobile device manufacturing authorizations to 30 companies, attracting investments to the tune of US$120 million, producing 10.1 million smartphone in 2021 and creating 2,000 jobs.
The world’s leading brands like Samsung, Xaomi, Oppo, Vivo, Nokia, Tecno, ZTE, etc. are now being manufactured in the country. Pakistan made history by exporting its first-ever smart phone consignment to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) under the ‘Manufactured in Pakistan’ tag. The impact of DIRBS is also evident as for the first time, smart phones now outnumber 2G phones on domestic networks, capturing a market share of 52% against 48% by 2G mobile phones. Legal commercial imports of mobile phones have also increased by around 125% in three years. The revenue collected on these imports between 2018 and 2020 crossed the PKR 122 billion mark.
The Annual Report also revealed that PTA introduced an online portal for Internet Protocol (IP) Whitelisting and Virtual Private Network (VPN) registration for software houses, call centers, and freelancers. A new automated Lost and Stolen Device System (LSDS) was also launched for blocking of lost, stolen, and snatched mobile phones. To eliminate illegal telecom setups and grey telephony, PTA conducted 53 raids during the last three years, leading to the confiscation of 163 illegal gateways and 35 arrests.
PTA, as a regulator, is focused on providing an enabling environment to telecom operators, to invest in networks and improve experiences through upgraded and enhanced QoS standards. In 2022, PTA aims to focus on closing the digital divide through local and international collaboration, working with stakeholders to launch 5G in Pakistan and provide impetus for broadband proliferation and fiberization. Additionally, releasing additional spectrum as and when demanded by the market, unlawful content moderation, ensuring a level-playing field to all operators and coordinating with stakeholders for improving Pakistan’s cyber security outlook.