90% of Pakistanis to Have 3G, while 80% to Have 4G Access by 2020: GSMA


The Global System Mobile Association (GSMA) has estimated that 90% of Pakistani population will have access to 3G networks while 80% population will have access to 4G services by 2020.

Following heavy investments, 3G coverage in Pakistan — from all operators combined — reached 65% of population by the end of 2015, while it stretched to just under 75% of the Pakistani population by mid-2016, said the report that’s available with ProPakistani.

Key findings of report are:

  • 3G coverage reached 75% of Pakistani population by mid-2016
  • 4G coverage reached 18% of Pakistani population by mid-2016
  • There were 90 million unique subscribers in Pakistan by mid-2016, accounting for 47% of the population.
  • 29% of Pakistani population use mobile internet (2G, 3G or 4G)
  • Mobile broadband uptake has been slow, mainly due to the fact that many citizens either cannot afford or do not know how to use the devices and services that deliver mobile broadband.
  • Pakistan still ranks low (as compared to neighbors) on enablers of mobile internet connectivity: infrastructure, affordability, consumer readiness and content
  • With time, Mobile broadband (3G and 4G) users in Pakistan are estimated to grow to 60 million by 2020

With continued investment – it is estimated that investments for 3G network expansion will reach $2.8 billion over the next four years (not including any additional spectrum costs) – and it will enable around 90% of the population with 3G access by 2020, said the report.

With only two operators, 4G rollout has expanded rather slowly and reached just 18% of the population by mid-2016. However, with Mobilink acquiring Warid and Telenor beginning 4G rollout in August 2016, 4G coverage will rapidly increase to 80% of the population by 2020.

Pakistan has an emerging digital industry, with mobile penetration and internet usage lower than many of its regional and economic peers. By mid-2016, there were 90 million unique subscribers in Pakistan, accounting for 47% of the population.

This is among the lowest penetration levels in South Asia, ahead of only India and Afghanistan. Further, less than 30% are users of the mobile internet (2G, 3G or 4G), ahead of only Afghanistan.

The report states that Pakistan has an emerging mobile industry: there are approximately 90 million unique subscribers in the country, accounting for 47% of the population. However, the enablers of mobile internet connectivity: infrastructure, affordability, consumer readiness and content, all rank low in Pakistan relative to its neighbors.

These enablers are critical to creating the right conditions of supply and demand for mobile internet connectivity to flourish. Pakistan therefore has one of the lowest penetration rates in South Asia, maintained in the report.

Not to mention, mobile internet penetration in Pakistan is 29% versus a regional average of 32%.

Although mobile broadband (3G and above) coverage has increased rapidly since launch in 2014, reaching 75% of citizens by mid-2016, uptake has remained low: as of June 2016, only around 10% of Pakistanis subscribed to mobile broadband services. This is the lowest of any South Asian country except Afghanistan.

Many citizens either cannot afford or do not know how to use the devices and services that deliver mobile broadband.

Over the next three years, mobile subscriber penetration will grow to just over half of the country’s population – only a small increase from now, the report maintained.

Today’s users will accelerate their transition to mobile broadband from 2G services, with improved network coverage and more affordable smartphones with time.

By 2020, mobile broadband will be accessed by about a third of the population, albeit predominantly those migrating from 2G. Given the lack of fixed line broadband connectivity in Pakistan, the digital divide – between those that have access to the internet and those that do not – will remain substantial.

Pakistan is an emerging digital society: digitization is still in its early stages, and is used mainly as a tool for accelerating socioeconomic development, particularly in improving digital and financial inclusion.

However, through its Vision 2025 strategy, Pakistan aims to complete its transition to a knowledge-based economy, creating a globally competitive and prosperous country that provides a high quality of life for all its citizens.

Vision 2025 aspires to a more advanced digital society: digital development can drive increased engagement between individuals and institutions, provide huge growth potential and productivity gains in all sectors, and enable more advanced and innovative government services.

Pakistan’s mobile sector is in a unique position to support the country’s digital development for three key reasons:

  • Mobile can connect more people than any other technology, particularly in underserved rural areas
  • Mobile can provide secure access to a variety of digital services such as health and education
  • Mobile can provide a platform to provide financial inclusion, engaging many people in the economy for the first time.

In parallel, innovative services that run over mobile networks can support many of the government’s Vision 2025 objectives, such as increasing enrolment in education, improving food security and driving private sector growth.

Mobile operators in Pakistan are playing their part in innovating to deliver the services that will accelerate progress towards the goals of Vision 2025 – and in doing so generating growth, jobs and investment in the wider economy. But they have an opportunity to do more.

Today, more than half of Pakistani citizens do not subscribe to a mobile service, and some (predominantly rural) areas of the country do not have high-quality mobile broadband coverage at all.

There is a clear role for the government in addressing some of the factors that lie at the heart of this issue, and its agenda must focus on the following areas.

Three key areas require immediate attention:

  • A competition policy that considers all market players, not just telecoms service providers, in a technology-neutral environment aimed at preventing bottlenecks and exclusionary conduct
  • Clear and simplified licensing practices based on function rather than technology or legacy industry structures, which can accommodate the rapidly changing market and encourage investment and innovation
  • A new framework for physical network cooperation (including network and spectrum sharing) that is light-touch and focuses on general competition principles and transparency.

Without policy reforms that reflect this changed digital landscape, markets will become further distorted, and investment and innovation will be put at significant risk. There is a real opportunity for the government, institutions, mobile operators and the wider mobile industry to work together to make these regulations a better fit for the modern digital ecosystem.





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