Rapid 3G Growth: Not Just the Towers, We Need a Complete Ecosystem!

Almost six months have passed since the launch of 3G services in Pakistan and analysts are already showing their displeasure about 3G uptake in the country. They believe that masses have rejected the the next-gen Mobile internet technology and that it was really not worth it.

These analysts are probably right to an extent because 3G services offered by telcos and the coverage is too little, but at the same time we need to evaluate if all the high hopes and expectations that were associated with 3G were rational or note.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and Ministry of IT and Telecom – at the time of 3G auction – left no stone un-turned to attribute 3G as an ultimate solution for every single problem that exists in our society. They bragged so hard that they forgot to tell us that all these benefits of 3G will be slow and gradual. So gradual that it may take us years to realize the dreams that PTA showed us before the auction.

What PTA and MoIT also forgot to tell the public was the fact that its not only the 3G network that will change our social style, they even didn’t tell us that there is a lot more than just the 3G network that we may need to transition to next era of technological advancements.

One can’t criticize PTA for telling us half truths because they were acting like sales agency, and this is exactly how things are sold.

But moving forward, let’s evaluate on how well are we going along with the 3G adoption rate, and things that we need to do in addition to just erecting 3G enabled cell sites.

Adoption Rate

Its not a hidden fact now that 3G adoption rate isn’t very fascinating so far. Its discouraging actually. But considering other innovations, this slow penetration is regarded as a natural process and that’s exactly how other communication technologies were welcomed in this country. Be it the landline phones or then cellular services, or broadband for that matter, every new technology took its due time to penetrate.

Network deployments take time. Today 3G networks are better than what we had two months ago, and similarly they will only get better with each passing month. Currently you might not get blanket 3G coverage in whole of your city, especially if you are not in Islamabad, which leaves you to enjoy 3G services only where its available. Meaning that customers are leveraging 3G technologies but they haven’t given up their old-means of mobile internet such as PTCL EVO.

In such situations, when service is either not smooth or if its unreliable, adoption rate is bound to remain low. But this will change when we will have better 3G coverage with in-door penetration throughout the cities. That will be the time when a common man will be able to better rely on 3G technology for all their internet needs.

With blanket 3G coverage users will be more confident about availability of service and hence they will easily rely on Viber, Skype etc whenever and where-ever they need it. Such usage patterns and confidence levels will increase adoption rate exponentially. But again, this moment will take time to come.

Keeping in view the past record of Pakistani nation, 3G early adopters are still in higher proportions when compared to rest of the technologies. Take example of cellular subscribers, which were only 5 million in 2004 i.e. after 13 years of service launch in Pakistan. Presently, we are more adoptive to technological changes and this clearly hints that number of 3G users will get only better with time.

Lack of 3G Readiness on Telcos Part

Despite telcos settlement with Pakistan Telecommunication Authority – according to which regulator had agreed to issue four 3G licenses instead of three meaning that all operators were to get a 3G license – some telcos were not fully prepared to launch 3G and this is probably why we are today seeing slow rollouts.

Mobilink and Zong clearly witnessed challenges in rolling out 3G networks, but the good thing is that they are getting better now.

There’s no denying in the fact that some telcos were under prepared for the launch of 3G and this resulted into slow network rollouts and resultantly the slow adoption of 3G.

First Time Internet Users are Not Targeted Yet!

Cellular companies are clearly not targeting 3G for first time internet users yet, the real and ultimate beneficiary of 3G technology. A CMO of a cellular company, with request to not to name him, told ProPakistani that this is part of his company’s strategy to make 3G service available to potential users first who are more adoptive and offer better returns on investment. According to him, with selected network deployments during early stages, operators are eyeing high-demand user base only. “But this will change with time”, he said.

Do you remember those early days, when we used to have limited cellular connectivity in rural areas? Its not the same anymore. Similarly 3G will reach those far-flung areas too but in due time.

This country has millions and millions of heads who can be potential 3G customers. Not to mention, a huge number of cellular customers reside in rural areas and when telcos will start offering 3G services to those first time internet users, this whole nation will turn the global internet market upside down.

Just imagine that Pakistan ranks as 8th largest market in the world for cellular subscribers with over 140 million customers. To be on safer side, if we estimate that only half of 140 million cellular subscribers are unique active subscribers then 70 million strong base can potentially join internet in next few years, which means that we can rank in top 5 internet markets in the world in just few years from now.

Again, as mentioned before, all of this will take time and one has to trust the technology that flows like water and it maps its tracks itself, you just have to give it the chance and time.

Need for Ecosystem

Sohaib Sheikh, a senior telecom analyst, believes that 3G network isn’t the only thing that we need for masses to adopt 3G. “Its the whole ecosystem that we will need to have in place for quick and early transition of 2G users to 3G environment”, said Mr. Sheikh.

According to Sohaib Sheikh, local content, devices, infrastructure, e-commerce, cyber laws and internet freedom are few of the elements that Pakistan needs for progressive 3G uptake.

Let’s take the example of local content; a common internet user in Pakistan has nothing much to do when connected to internet. Emails, Facebook, some news website and that’s all what is available to him/her when connected to internet.

For how long one can read New York Times or Buzzfeed? Naturally we need local content that could attract us more and keep us glued to the internet.

And by local content, we don’t mean the comics and image websites only, or those useless copied news websites, we actually mean local apps, smartphone apps that allow us to register complaints with IESCO, or app that will let us pay our internet bill, or an app that should let us view/share/append the syllabus of our school going kids. This is what we need in addition to what we already have right now.

I must add here that building an ecosystem is where Government will have to step in and play a role, they must come up with better vision of how they want to see this nation in five or ten years from now.

E-payment gateway is one small thing (that PTA had planned in 2009 but we still don’t have it) that can enable our developers and freelancers to accept payments via internet. Paypal seems to be a distant reality now considering that no one in our government, PSEB, PASHA or anyone else has been able to convince the payment processing giant to offer its services in Pakistan.

E-Commerce industry without Paypal is like playing cricket without a bat. Similarly considering that only 3G – without epayment solutions – will revolutionize the e-commerce industry is simply an over-statement.

We also need a cyber-law, given that tens of millions of new users will be joining internet which is not regulated yet. I am sure this may amaze our foreign friends but there is no law in place to govern such massive cyber population of Pakistan. This has to change as well.

If government hasn’t done anything in the past, this is the time to start working on the ecosystem, or it will be too late and 3G will only become a place where our youth will come to watch adult content.

Awareness Campaigns

We recently did a dedicated story on this topic and found that telcos are advertising their 3G services very vaguely. Their campaigns are misdirected and that the real message is either too confusing or its bundled with countless other services. Telcos will have to change this approach to bring forward simple to understand campaigns that could trigger the masses for action.

Take the example of Idea Cellular India, they advertised the technology wisely and kept the basic benefits in mind, or like marketing intellects say, ‘they built the product before building the brand’.

Now let’s watch below Telenor’s 3G ad for their social bundle, in which models are pointlessly dancing with almost no message at all:

Now check below TVCs from Idea Mobile and do a comparison yourself.

3G Enabled Devices

Currently 3G enabled devices in Pakistan account for under 10 percent of total handsets running in the country. There is a dire need for introduction of reasonably performing low-cost 3G enabled handsets in the market.

Ufone has done a good job with the launch of Ufone U5, a 3G enabled device with price tag of Rs. 5,999. Lenvo has promised the launch of a similar price-tagged device in coming months, but more such Smartphones should surface in local market. Its a rich market, where there is a huge demand in the low-priced segment that should be tapped by phone makers.


Telecom operators need to do better with 3G deployments. Network coverage is bettering with time and from what telcos have done in just four month, it appears that 3G rollout obligations will be met a lot earlier than what PTA had specified in the 3G information memorandum.

But telecom operators are not the only ones to get the 3G momentum going. Its us, the people, the government, private sector, developers, freelancers, publishers, phone makers who are responsible for 3G uptake. We all have to play our roles to truly realize the benefits of 3G.

Tech reporter with over 10 years of experience, founder of ProPakistani.PK

  • i at to say that there is no free 3g i don’t know why pta limits the internet broadband and mobile as well.its to do dharna on unlimited internet

  • In my opinion, we only need an ecosystem. Everything else shall follow. Make government processes online. All those that public goes through every day. No need to make apps. Just make mobile-centric interface of operative websites. Then make some daily use apps like price list, and citizen journalism. Finally, open Youtube and see the 3g adoption race upwards.
    People would also like to benefit from o-rated tax regime on data services. Currently, its ineffective for prepaid customers because as soon as we load balance, a major chunk of it is stolen by govt. For instance, if one has to buy a rs.1500 3g bundle, one has to load rs.2000 worth of credit.
    And 3/4g rollout obligatoins should have been rural centric. Telcos should have been bound to cover half of rural areas in 2 years. They had to cover urban centres anyways. Give internet to those who do not have it to begin with.

  • Main reason low of adoption is low coverage. once you subscribe package and you move to other area of city 3g services are not available.

  • One of the Key marketing aspect of 3G or any other high speed Internet is Communication. We need to realize when you are using Network Voice and Messaging systems, you are dependent on the Network. Your In-Network rates will always be less then your Out-of-Network charges. Internet removes that restriction. When you are using Viber or Skype, it does not matter which Network Operator you are using and the Network of other party. As long as both parties have good Data Speeds, Network Operator becomes irrelevant (whether local or International). This may not be a new Revenue Stream of the Operators (since gain in Data will result in reduction on Voice and Messaging), but it will definitely make the Revenue stream more stable since Data is mostly offered and subscribed in Bundles, and ultimately when Video calls become more mainstream, it will result in increased Per User Income for the Operators.

    • From early signs it appears that telcos are afraid of offering cheap 3g for that very reason. They fear that their high revenue streams from calls – especially international calls – will register a significant drop (remember PTCL trying to clamp down on MSN messenger and Skype). That is why you see them offer video calling on a separate tariff altogether, and calls over viber/skype over the network have a high drop rate. Fair enough that these companies want to recover their investment and make a profit, but you can’t expect to have your cake and eat it too! Right now, telcos are pricing themselves out of adoption.

      Further, I think companies should also introduce phone exchange programmes – where people can trade in their 2G smartphones for 3G enabled smartphones – that should help!

  • the cost in rupees/Gb of data is too high for a common man to afford. i was thinking to switch to 3g from ptcl dsl but it doesn’t seem a possibility

    • 3G is not the replacement of DSL. Its alternative mean of internet which you can use when you are away from home. That’s what people of Pakistan need to understand

      • well depends on one’s needs. for instance i am ready to pay Rs 1500/month for 30Gb @ atleast 2Mbps DL and reasonable upload speed.

        • 3G dongles will be launched soon by all mobile companies with higher data limits. Your demands are not wrong. But telcos have to compensate billions of dollars they spent in licensing and infrastructure development. If 3G would be launched with 10 years ago we all would be enjoying the benefits of cheaper internet in our hands. But welcome to Pakistan :)

    • well just saying i have been using 3G abroad, and the cost per GB data is quite is cheap here.

      But the problem lies in educating the people on the usefulness of 3G, how it will affect their daily lives and improve their productivity.

  • until telecos go for unlimited packages with reasonable price. 3G or 4G will not get appreciation. every one need high speed internet, but the limited quota prevent them to subscribe…. just do it on experimental bases and see the result. it will be very highly welcomed by every mobile phone user.

  • Its just laziness of our people who want everything unlimited without paying any money. Their main reason of using internet is downloading movies, songs, porn etc which is not the primary target of 3G. its target market is people who need knowledge, communication and smart technologies on the go. Therefore don’t expect 3G to be successful in Pakistan like developed countries.

    • well, telcos will make it successful as they have done big investment and they have to act according to the moods of the customers.

      • I wish they do make it successful and affordable. Also there’s country’s law and security situatiuon to blame which do not favor customers to use smartphones on the go :p

  • The difference is clear from the advertising approach from mobile companies, as shown in the comparison above.

    I don’t know what kind of illiterate people in promotion department have these companies hired.

  • Bhai mein Lahore thokar niaz baig rehta hn. yahan 3g k signal chut per charh k dhondna party hain. Coverage tu de nahin rahy log kaisy 3g adopt krein.

    • same here boy i also live in DHA eme sector 3G Signal tu door 2G a jaen bari baat ha .hahahahahaah ZoNg Sab Kah do

  • Low coverage. Absence of ecosystem. 3g devices. YouTube. E business problems. High charges… Awareness…these are few issues behind this. But hold on.. Pakistani’s are Bhair Chal nation.they follow the TREND.. Once it will be set. U will see sky rocketing growth in it…

  • the most pathetic 3g experience after the launch is with Mobilink…mobilink postpaid customers will agree with me here.

  • They have to work hard for 3G awareness campaigns! Because of their bad campaigns and Tv ads Pakistani’s now thought that 3G is all about using social media site with super fast speed.

  • i think its the cost of availing 3G services. those who were previously using Rs. 200 bundles of 2G found it relatively very expensive for a slighter more speed. After upgradation of Telecos’ systems, even 2G is giving 35KB speed in 3G coverage areas. When someone claim that these rates are way cheaper than other countries, please keep in mind the earning levels of foreign countries.

    • Completely agree with you. I subscribe to Ufone’s 2G Rs200 1Gb package (which they dropped from 2gb after introducing 3G) – since its the cheapest package around (my monthly phone bill over 2 lines still gorsses over Rs1000). Though have rarely hit the high 1Gb limit, any look at comparable 3G packages shows that they cost 3x as much. In the scenario where I use the same amount of data – though at just higher speeds – I have to fork out quite a bit more money. If I am trying to keep my phone bill down, why would i want to spike up my bill? So my early adoption, where the incentive would be that i switch over and possibly increase my consumption of internet on my mobile device – especially when the power is out – goes right out of the window. Secondly, because of low coverage, if I will be reverted back to 2G for most of the time that i am outside or not in a coverage area, why should i spend more for a service which I am not going to get?

      The article is right in that aspect that telcos did not adequately prepare for the roll out of 3G despite knowing that they will be getting the license soon!

  • 3G is growing.. but slow, its getting better and soon it will be changing how we live our day to day life. couple of months ago and still WiFi/Broadband was the only best way to use internet [if you don’t have a 3g coverage at your house] it restrict us to stay in that area but that will be chnaging over time. Yes, i agree telco need to keep things simple when advertising; 3g is new to Majority they might have used it in form of PTCL-Evo but on a mobile phone that don’t restrict you to one place with better speed is new concept for many. As for 3g Enables Devices Im counting on Android-one, its a great phone with low price-tag and on top you get latest updates directly from Google which for many can be appealing for next version of Android will come to Android-one Devices when its publicly available.

  • Still no 3G in Azad Kashmir where there are relatively wealthier people per capita and where 3G uptake would be very quick. It’s ridiculous. Anyone know of when it’ll happen?

  • I have advocated it before on this forum and will reiterate it again that the current leadership within the operators is not suited to transition the subscriber base from its past mode of “auto-growth” to the current state of real competition, high Opex, high Capex, low MoU, low ARPU, low margins and a lack of meaningful applications & services. The problem is further compounded by lack of vision within the operators by subscribing to age old marketing strategies largely composed of media personalities, jingles and a myopic view of positioning mobile phone as either a status symbol or a conduit to change of lifestyle.

    The mobile broadband environment will not replace the PC as there are various functions that are not suitable to perform on a smartphone, but it doesn’t mean that a large number of corporate applications cannot be extended to a mobile phone and this is where the private and public sectors will have to take the lead, and there are signs that this is already happening, albeit more so in the private sector than public. Meaningful applications and services are lacking in the consumer sector and the ones currently popular are not bandwidth eaters (Viber, WhatsApp, etc). These applications were popular in the pre-3G world and will not impact bandwidth usage by a whole lot. A slew of meaningful and productive, content focused applications and services are needed to encourage bandwidth consumption.

    3G business cases have failed to generate ROI for the operators across the world and there is not a single operator who can claim a positive ROI with respect to 3G and it’s hard to envision as to how Pakistan’s mobile industry could be any different.

    Nonetheless, customer education and building of an ecosystem must continue. At the same time, operators must revisit their internal skill set and capabilities, as well as their product positioning strategies.

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