Telecom sector – anchoring Pakistan’s economy


Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA) covered a wide gamut of upgradation measures to enhance the quality of its services in the year 2011. These measures are shaped up to not only help the Authority in its individual quest for perfection; they would also cater the national interests and the development of national economy as a whole. Ever since the inception of PTA in 1996, it has been active in vying to bolster the national economy by doing its best to contribute in every way possible. The actions taken in 2011 are touted by the experts as going a long way in making the previously unfathomable targets; achievable.


In synchrony with its vision, business feasibility has always been at the apex of any priority list that PTA conjures up. This coupled with the interests of the consumers, forms the foundation of the PTA structure, and its goals. And of course, with such an unambiguous approach towards, the impressive numbers posted in 2011 were a fitting outcome. Pakistan’s teledensity touched 68.39 per cent – a 6.7 per cent rise from 2010. Mobile subscribers at the tail-end of 2011 were estimated to be around 108.9 million – flaunting a growth rate of 10 per cent; which is twice as much as that of the previous year. There was a precipitous ascent in mobile penetration as well, as the numbers rose to 65.4 per cent – from 60.4 per cent last year. Number of Cell sites has also increased from 30,126 in June 2010 to 31,303 when the data was collected at the end of last year. Cellular industry’s ARPU also depicted a healthy increase from $2.41 in the previous fiscal year to $2.45 this time round. Mobilink continues its unrelenting presence at the top of the pile as far as mobile subscribers market is concerned, with a 30.7 per cent share, followed by Telenor (24.5 per cent), Ufone (18.9 per cent), Warid (16 per cent) and Zong (10 per cent).


Despite wireless technologies taking over the lion’s share of broadband market, the number of broadband users crossed the one million mark by rising up to 1,491,491 at the end of FY2011 from 900,648 previously – showcasing a 66 per cent jump. The broadband spread rose from 0.55 per cent to 0.89 per cent as well. PTCL was at the top of the broadband clientele with 848,379 holding 57 per cent market share. PTCL was followed by Wateen in the aforementioned stat with 218,506 customers and 15 per cent of the market share.


The local loop (LL) segment of the industry also depicted a decent progression as it faced a daunting competition from the wireless solutions; including mobile cellular services. LL teledensity was calculated at 3.4 per cent, with a subscription of 5.72 million in June 2011. PTCL maintained its domineering presence, and was the dominant operator in the FLL marker with 74 per cent of the market share. The Long Distance and International (LDI) carried 11.4 billion international minutes compared to 9.5 billion minutes in the previous year – showcasing a 20 per cent gain.


The telecom sector’s contribution to the national exchequer was a massive Rs116.9 billion. GST/FED rose by 20 per cent to Rs52.6 billion. The total telecom revenues were at their zenith this year, reaching an all-time high of Rs362 billion. Cellular income was also bolstered and took an 11 per cent spike to Rs262 billion from Rs236 billion previously. Over the past three years, the Authority has amassed around Rs40 billion against APC for USF. In its endeavour to curtail grey traffic, the Authority saved revenue of $26 million.


Owing to an influx of around $493 million in telecom and FDI of $79 million, there was overwhelming buoyancy as far as the investment in the sector is concerned. The imports had a jump of $766 million from $725 million. Mobile handset imports soared to the $218 million mark, showing a leap of 29 per cent. PTA left no stone unturned in its pursuit of encouraging foreign investment in our neck of the woods.


Apropos balanced regulatory policy, PTA flagged, during the year industry issues, encompassing matters including; high GST, levy of provincial taxes and introducing 36 licensing. When needed PTA issued Show Cause Notices, brought about penalties, suspended licenses and sensitized telecom operators on SOPs. To further ameliorate the service quality, PTA introduced Cellular Mobile Network QoS Regulations 2011 and GPRS/EDGE Quality of Service Regulations, 2010.


PTA has taken scores of initiatives to safeguard the consumer interest, including the likes of new online complaint management system, SOP to control spam, unsolicited telemarketing and a multitude of technical measures to purge out ‘obnoxious and fraudulent’ communication, Anti-Spam filters, common Short Code allocation, SMS blocking, Pre-NPR Data and other such facilities. The new Rabta Information Portal will also go a long way in providing the much needed information and content at a solitary place.


Law enforcement agencies were also aided by PTA owing to a comprehensive subscriber verification and authentication system to deal with illegal and unverified SIMs. A wide range of measures were taken, including the unveiling of Subscriber Verification System, monitoring system, and another system to purge the database of mobile subscribers. There globally acclaimed projects were supervised via field surveys and rendezvous with Customer Service Centres. In collaboration with law enforcement agencies, PTA has carried out 45 raids since 2009 against the grey traffickers. The Authority also blocked 1095 websites after consumer complaints.


Amidst Quality of Services (QoS) surveys PTA took actions against the telecom operator if there was any plunge in the required parameters, directing the respective CMTOs to improve their services. As a corollary of PTCL QoS survey, a distortion of the parameters divulged in the company’s license terms and conditions was revealed and appositely dealt with after PTA issued a Show Cause Notice. PTCL also covered all the bases while orchestrating the second comprehensive QoS survey for Wireless Local-Loop (WLL) sector, of Limited Mobility verification of all operational WLL licensees and their QoS were found to be up to the mark.


PTA continued to spread its message of research in the telecom sector via associations with educational institutions. Under PTA Academia Linkage programme, PTA signed Memorandums of Understanding with leading universities of Pakistan to encourage research and become breeding grounds for future connoisseurs of the field. Gold medals and cash prizes to university students, who had excelled in their telecom and IT projects, were also given to further shore up the Authority’s quest of expanding its repertoire.


PTA’s performance was praised both at the regional and international level, and the Authority was announced as the Most Progressive Telecom Regulator in South Asia for the year. Chairman PTA, Dr Mohammed Yaseen had the revered distinction of receiving the Best Telecom Regulatory Leader of the Year from the South Asian, Middle Eastern and North African (SAMENA) Telecommunication Council.


Even though PTA has reached unprecedented heights, the Authority is still vying to continue to enhance the sector in synchrony with the latest updates. PTA unveiled its ‘Vision 2020’ document, which envisions future developments needed to ensure that PTA continues its upsurge during the next ten years as well. The document is designed to aid policy makers in synthesizing the best policies possible to ensure that the customer sanguinity and the technological advancement continue at the same pace. It is being prognosticated that numbers of mobile users, broadband subscribers and fixed line customers will surpass the marks of 160 million, 19 million and 5 million respectively, by 2020.

The writer is Sub-Editor, Profit. He can be reached at [email protected]