When Pakistani operators launched 3G and 4G services last year, millions of users — who were previously relying on mostly stagnant and fixed internet only — rushed to adopt wireless broadband services. This uptake of 3G and 4G services was so massive that around 15 million mobile phone users shifted to 3G/4G networks within the first year of service availability, almost double what experts had estimated in the start.
This super adoption of 3G and 4G networks came with certain exceptions, however, operators have arguably failed to match them due to reasons that are widely known in the industry.
According to a POLL that ran on ProPakistani for over a week, almost 75% of respondents said that they aren’t fully happy with 3G services, with more than 46% of respondents rating the 3G services not satisfactory at all; hinting that a large majority of mobile phone users in Pakistan aren’t contented with 3G services.
Detailed Poll results remained as following:
Limited 3G Spectrum
Industry experts, and in fact operators themselves too, believe that size of spectrum auctioned per operator by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority is one bottleneck that is responsible for the substandard 3G services.
While other countries were offering up to 40Mhz per operator and beyond for 3G services, only 5Mhz spectrum for Telenor and Ufone and 10Mhz spectrum for Zong and Mobilink has started to cause bandwidth capacity issues for the operators.
Michael Foley, CEO Telenor Pakistan, told ProPakistani few months back that his company will start facing congestion issues for 3G services with 5Mhz and almost same is the case with Ufone.
We constantly get reports from users who face quality of service issues from areas that performed well during initial days, but with time — as the user base is growing — quality of service is only deteriorating.
Considering on-ground financial situation of operators and abundant issues we face as a country, it appears that another auction is not possible during next 6-12 months. That will mean operators have to make do with the current spectrum and consumers will be the ones to bear the brunt in shape of substandard 3G services.
PTA’s strategy of selling two 5Mhz blocks and two 10Mhz blocks for a total of four operators, confined operator’s ability to offer better speeds and slashed the competition in auction that caused serious loss to national exchequer and operators
A real question, in this scenario, raises that why PTA auctioned just 5Mhz of spectrum for two operators when these capacity bottlenecks were foreseen and imminent.
It won’t be out of place to mention that an audit report has questioned PTA on same topic but with a different angle. According to the report, this strategy of selling two 5Mhz blocks and two 10Mhz blocks for a total of four operators, PTA slashed the competition that caused some serious loss to national exchequer.
Not to mention, Pakistan sold a total of 30Mhz of spectrum for USD 902.92 million through bidding, with only US 15 million earned above the base price of USD 885 million.
Price Wars Continue
As before 3G/4G times, operators are still embroiled in price wars, drastically cutting into profit margins . Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, that has tried to take control of telecom tariffs through a regulation, has effectively failed to set a price floor.
Decreasing revenues from SMS and voice (thanks to smart apps and high-speed broadband), data services are still not generating enough revenues for operators as they could and hence the ROI proposition is leaving them to invest less on networks and reap more from inferior quality of service.
At a time when global and regional operators are relying heavily on data revenues, Pakistani operators are struggling to reap better ARPUs through 3G and 4G services than they had with voice and SMS
Telecom operators in Pakistan have been long relying on numbers. Number of customers, number of cities with 3G coverage and other similar vectors with numbers are what they give attention to the most. Customer satisfaction is sadly not one of them.
Such approaches compel them to offer services to more areas, without considering the quality of service KPIs or customer satisfaction.
This is probably why we hear the news of number of 3G covered cities by operators, but no coverage maps or false coverage maps.
Its now high time that operators start keeping customers experience as their primary scale for measuring success.
Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has to do more in terms of regulating quality of services from cellular operators. We haven’t heard of any QoS survey after 3G/4G spectrum auction, that they should do more regularly to keep an eye on performance of operators.
Its a prime responsibility of PTA to proactively safeguard the interest of consumers and this is why they should not wait for customers to register complaints with authority; instead, PTA should go and fix the problem in advance.
With growing number of 3G and 4G users, and now with emergence of data-only SIMs, PTA’s role in regulating quality has become more crucial as telecom services are now at the core of shaping up the economy of the country and PTA has a major part in it to play.