Can 3G and 4G do Wonders with Data?

By Sohaib Sheikh

Pakistan’s telecom industry can easily be regarded as one of the most competitive market in the region, where world’s top telecom operators with ultra deep pockets contend to get their share by leaving no stone unturned.


  • Data has never been marketed and sold like data, instead customers’ number has always remained the core focus for telecom operators.
  • Unfortunately — in the past — the monopoly behaviour by PTCL has always pushed other operators to indulge into this number game and in doing so they could never actually promote the data and make it a part of our daily lives.
  • This game is still on and it is still the number of customers that matter. What “Data” is being used for is not the concern of data sellers.
  • Once again PTCL is in competition with 3G operators and resultantly we are seeing similar ads from 3G operators in which they are using terms such as “Unlimited” and “MBs”.

Betting on 3G

We know that Pakistan had only 3.35 million broadband subscriptions before the auction of 3G and 4G licenses, while if we look at 3G uptake during first six month of service then there were some four million 3G users in first six months, which is 2.9% of 139 million total Mobile phone users in this short span of time.

There’s catch in 3G number however, which is that the definition used for an active 3G user is: Any revenue generating activity on data services during last 90 days.

But if we just forget the definition used for active 3G users, and also consider the fact that 3G services are not available all over the Pakistan as of yet — one can easily judge the tune of the market and the adoption rates for 3G technologies.

Historically, if we look at the track record of this nation, then Pakistanis are usually very hungry for new technologies and their adoption rate is decidedly high for new tech or for anything that’s better than what they were using earlier. This has happened before (during 2G era), and from its looks one can be certain that total subscription count for 3G users can cross 20 million in first 30 months

Lets talk about the neighbouring countries, India, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

3G and 4G was launched in India in 2008 and 2012 respectively, while the total 3G customers are approx. 107 million (which is 12 % of the total 884 million mobile phone users in India) while only 225,000 are 4G users which is not a very healthy number.

Smart phone penetration in India is around 10 percent and youtube is not banned there. Operators in India are not using conventional techniques by just promoting MBs and speed instead they are very creatively communicating the utility of data to there consumers and how it syncs with there lifestyle.

To generate revenues they are selling USB Dongles, developed apps such as One Touch Internet by Airtel, music services and TV services have also been developed to increase Data consumption.

On the other hand Afghanistan has 700,000 3G subscribers (in 30 months) which is 3.2% of the total 21.5m users with smart phone penetration of approx. 8%. And Bangladesh is standing at 4.8 million 3G users in two years, which is 4% of the total 118 million users.

Both Afghanistan and Bangladesh are promoting Mi-Fi routers to generate revenues as an ad-on.

While we lack at various fronts, such as dongle aren’t marketed as of yet, apps is an area where we are behind, but the overall 3G uptake is doing fine. Importantly, we could do a lot better.

Ingredients for Boosting 3G

As one would agree: 3G adoptions is dependent on variety of things, including

  • Consumer awareness
  • Devices,
  • Ecosystem
  • And of course the network coverage.

If we assume that coverage can be taken care of by telcos, the other two essential elements lie in the hands of handset industry (for devices) and the government and private sector (for building of the ecosystem).

On top of this, user awareness is another essential part where consumers are rightly educated about the benefits of next-gen technologies.

Telco’s started there awareness campaigns by promoting speed and MB’s, which was a norm in broadband industry as well where no one could explain how data is useful in our daily lives other then Facebook and twitter while youtube is still on a hold. What about the applications that can be useful for the consumer in daily routine to increase data usage?

Telecom operators either follow Steve Job’s strategy by giving consumer what he/she should need or by learning from the consumers’ insight and create what they want but nothing has been done so far except for trying to add the numbers instead of focusing on revenue generating ideas and customers.

Its time to Gamify and engage the customer by giving them product experience. Its time to create a world class customer education communiqué which is obviously not about models dancing on the TV screen with cell phones in there hands and talking about re-activation, speed and MB’s but what we need is informative tactical telling them how it (data) syncs in ones lifestyle.

An ongoing campaign that is not just about conventional mediums but bridging the On-ground connect by reaching out to customers where they are, be it malls, hotspots, education institutes or offices, engage them with product trial creatively and its benefits, make viral videos for new media.

While currently everyone is swimming in red ocean. Creating blue ocean and over ruling the competition takes guts and a thorough research.

Now if we just have a look at current market scenario, low-end 3G devices are readily available in the market. There are in fact half a dozen 3G Smartphones that cost less than USD 100. This segment is only going to get rich with time, as more and more vendors are making their way to Pakistani market (reference: OPPO, Lenovo, Smartphone Line up in Pakistan" href="" target="_blank">Haier that entered Pakistani market in last six months). Increase in smartphone penetration and operators bundling with smartphones can be a positive sign for 3G growth.

Similarly, the digital ecosystem has picked up the pace. Number of startups surfacing every other day and the magnitude of FDI we are getting for digital companies is a clear hint of the uptake in the digital assets of the country.

Lack of Government Support

Unfortunately, Government, other than engulfing millions of dollars (in license fee), has done nothing so far. They are in fact negatively impacting the sector that brings them the top dollar to run the national economy.

Taxes, tightening regulations, absence of cyber law, expired policies, right of ways for infrastructure rollout, and what not.

The time has come for the authorities concerned to get serious with the work they are doing.


If done rightly, next-gen technologies can turn out to be a life-savor for telecom operators. But for that, government will also have to play its role to provide a level-playing field to cellular operators to ensure that industry is on flourishing path in the long run.

Author is a telecom specialist with expertise in Marketing and Corporate Communications. He can be reached at @sohaibs72 and Sohaib.sheikh at

  • some major steps must be taken by telcos. i want to replace my ptcl modem with 3/4G router. come on telcos

    • i replaced my PTCL with 3G already….
      Bought a Huawei USB Wifi Dongle form Aliexpress… cost around 85$….
      Now, using Telenor SIM in it…. without any package, using their unlimited 3G…. :)

  • to give tough time to ptcl and break there monoply i think there should be one more operator on landline side..

    • bhai jee PTCL jitna bara Network bananay mai bhi kisi aur operator ko 10 saal se uper lag jaye gy. Han agr wireless satellite network bana lein tau phr PTCL ko compete kar lein gy. But wo mehnga bht ho ga.

  • Competition is stiff between PTCL and 3G/4G operators in data hungry market.The 3G/4G uptake is tremendous.Approximately 3G/4G consumers are now more than 6 million and with swift progress in 3G/4G expansion the figure may reach 10 million in next 6 months.People are gradually adopting to 3G/4G technologies.USB dongles by 3G/4G operators are strongly awaited by common consumers.The 3G/4G companies will have to concentrate on quality for competing with PTCL.Those who will maintain quality will succeed in the long run.

    • Is there any USB dongle in which I just put USB of any operator and start using the 3G/ 4G services. and what if the dongle also offer you to connect other devices via WiFi too.

      • According to my information private USB dongles are available in market in which you can insert your SIM and use it.Admin may guide you in this issue.However common consumers are still awaiting for official USB Dongles issued by companies.

        • I am also waiting for usb or wifi router from mobilink or Telenor. I want to get rid of ptcl dsl. I have tested all of them . and they are now capable to be used as primary internet connection except ufone.

          • All 3G/4G connections are considered primary connections all over the World.Wireless connection is hassle free as compared to wired one.I think 3G/4G operators will issue USB dongles soon for staying competitive in the market.Quality will play important role in this regard.

            • what do you need usb dongles for? Just tether your cellphone with your laptops and you are good to go. Thats how i use my 3g.

  • Do anyone knows Which LTE Category Waird & Zong is offering ?

    Cat 1 , Cat 2 , Cat 3, or Cat 4 , ????

    latest phones have Cat 3 & Cat 4 support however latest huawei honor 6 plus has Cat 6.


    • Its mostly Cat3 or lesser,LTE Cat 6 etc mean LTE-Advanced where two or more spectrum bands are aggregated to get speeds upto 225 mbps. Such networks as of now are only in South Korea. U can buy any LTE handset supporting LTE on 1800 Mhz band and rest assured it will work on Zong and Warid.U dont need to see if its cat 3 or cat 6
      LTE Cat 6 is DC-HSPA
      LTE Cat 5 is like UTMS
      In terms of speeds that is

  • I think no need to have a MI-Fi Routers or 3G routers. These are very costly in market starting from 3500 to above 5000. I would suggest have a mobile device at low price starting from 2000 which have 3G support and use as wifi thetring. as it will be cell phone and 3G router too. i am also using it as Router ( HTC Explorer A310e) Sucked PTCL so boring and low speed issues everyday and every hour.

    Get a cell phone and have fun with it. Damn PTCL

  • Everyone tells thay we need to have good 3G and 4G and no one explains the benefits it has to our people and society. More uses should be elaborated except being the ‘cool factor’ and status symbol. Once people have the reasons, they will themselves make the demand of better services.

  • The article is more of the same, and apart from “could have”, “should have” or “would have”, the author is as lost as rest of the mobile industry. The word “Data” has appeared numerous times throughout the body of the article, but offers no blue print or road map as to how the operators and consumers can leverage it. A key indicator of 3/4G success should have been visible in operator’s ARPU, which has actually shown a declining trend — which means that the number of “active” 3/4G users is very much relevant to the whole equation, and there is a reason for it in that very few subscribers actually browse on their smartphones when they are on the road. Environments such as workplace and home are generally equipped with WiFi, negating the need for mobile broadband. Operators will need to shun singing & dancing and help put together an ecosystem to leverage their investments. This will require bold steps such as extending their networks to WiFi hotspots, funding of promising start-ups, as well as an active role in promoting and supporting eGovernance. The initiatives and not an end-all, but will be a good start nonetheless.

    • without mentioning your name which is bonga….i think the article clearly says what it should and no author is stupid to provide a strategy in an article for free i guess :)

  • PTCL must be, obviously, biggest gainer from the growth of MBB as they are the largest IP carrier of Pakistan. PTCL is the main wholesale provider of CMO’s for their backhauling and Internet Capacity requirements which keep on growing now faster and faster with growing sales of mobile data. I guess more than they lose in retail Wireless BB, would be regained on wholesale side. That’s the advantage of two-sided business model. Once terrestrial links with India and China open and Telenor, Zong (China Mobile) and Mobilink become fully self-providing, then it would be different story. It would be real blow to PTCL and benefit of cheaper Internet may become a reality for BB users in Pakistan.

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