The telecom sector has emerged as a prominent contributor to Pakistan’s economy and its contribution to the national exchequer has shown an increase of 129 percent in 2020 as compared to 2019 despite the economy being under pressure due to the effects of the pandemic.
As per the Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA) Annual Report 2020 released here today, the sector contributed Rs. 278 billion (including the PTA’s deposits to the national exchequer) in the FY 2020 as compared to Rs. 121 billion in the FY 2019 registering a Year-on-Year growth of 129 percent.
A surge in the demand for telecom services due to the lockdown had resulted in significant growth not only in the subscriber base but also in the usage of telecom services.
Today, data usage stands at 4,498 Peta Bytes (FY2020) as compared to 2,545 Peta Bytes (FY 2019), showing a growth of over 77 percent. This substantial growth would not have been possible if the networks had not been upgraded. The country currently has international bandwidth connectivity of 3.1 TeraBytes and around 47,000 cell sites, of which 90 percent are 4G-enabled sites.
According to the PTA’s Annual Report, the total broadband subscriptions in the country grew by 175 percent over the last five years. Today, broadband subscribers have crossed 90 million, showing a growth of around 8 percent in the FY 2020. Additionally, Pakistan had a total broadband penetration of 42.2 percent in the FY 2020.
The telecom networks are currently available for 87 percent of the population and PTA is working with operators to increase their network coverage for the remaining 13 percent of the unserved people in Pakistan. The total teledensity now stands at 82 percent with over 172 million mobile subscribers and 2.2 million fixed-line subscribers.
In 2020, although the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) across the economy had been affected by the global lockdowns, the telecom sector made an iconic share of 25 percent (USD 623 million) in the total FDI made in the country. The total investment made by the local operators grew by 14.25 percent, and a total of USD 734 million were invested locally.
The total revenues of the sector reached Rs. 537 billion in the FY 2020, which had mainly been generated by the mobile sector. The financial gains have been enjoyed equally by telecom consumers, the affordability of telecom services in Pakistan has improved over the years, and the per GB broadband prices are currently as low as USD 0.20, which is among the lowest in the region.
Similarly, due to the Device Identification & Registration System (DIRBS), the introduction of government revenues increased manifold with the collection of taxes on the import of handsets. The local manufacturing of handsets has enlivened the telecom ecosystem with growth in local 4G device manufacturing crossing 34 percent.
Pakistan also underwent trials of 5G services which were one of the few firsts in South Asia. The PTA is aiming for a spectrum auction of LTE and VoLTE services in 2021 as a precursor to 5G. It is also gearing up for an auction of a spectrum for high-speed broadband services in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.
The PTA Annual Report highlights that this year, the regulator awarded 110 licenses for numerous telecom services and issued 91 certificates for the commencement of service to operators.
The PTA conducted QoS surveys across Pakistan for data, voice, and SMS services, and the operators were directed to take corrective measures where they had underperformed. It also conducted a number of successful raids against illegal VoIP setups this year to curb grey telephony.
The Annual Report further revealed that the PTA had ranked as a 4th generation telecom regulator by the ITU, placing it in the top five regulators of the Asia-Pacific region. The Pakistan Citizen Portal also recognized PTA as the best performing organization in complaint redressal satisfaction.
The abovementioned performances testify that both the sector and the regulator are moving in the right direction under the continuous support and guidance of the Government of Pakistan in the form of prudent policies and directions that spur the growth of digital technologies.
Regarding the situation caused by the pandemic, the Annual Report further added that 2020 had been an extraordinary year around the world as unexpected, unforeseen, and unanticipated events had changed the way the world had been functioning.
The new normal refocused the world onto telecommunication and digitalization; and the global telecom sector responded to the demands, and so did Pakistan. Being at the forefront, and considering that the country was acclimatizing to the changed conditions towards normalization, the PTA assured network upgrades, traffic optimization, and load balancing that resulted in uninterrupted service provision.