‘Mobile Tower Companies Play a Crucial Role in the Digitization of Pakistan’

ProPakistani sat down with Talat Qamar, edotco Towers Director Operations, to discuss how the company is working to connect the unconnected in Pakistan and the TowerCo industry in general while also touching upon edotco’s 5G readiness.

Our meeting with Mr. Talat Qamar provided us with a valuable chance to gain insights into the digital landscape in Pakistan and edotco’s contributions towards it.

Let’s hear from him about the company’s latest developments.

Tell us about edotco, what services are being provided and who are your customers

Since edotco came into being in 2012, the company has positioned itself as a market leader with over 54,000 telecommunications towers across Asia.

Today, we are the 6th largest Tower Company (TowerCo) in the world and one of the largest operators and developers of shared communications infrastructure which connects over 535 million mobile users across nine Asian countries.

As the nationally approved TowerCo by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) we have installed over 2500 Built-to-Suit (B2S) towers nationwide and have vast experience in building communications towers for MNOs to efficiently meet their growing infrastructure demands.

Apart from B2S, we also have experience in providing In-Building-Solution (IBS), small cells, fiber connectivity, and energy solutions to our telco customers as per their needs and demands.

What type of energy solutions has edotco deployed on its sites?

Our business model promotes infrastructure sharing to reduce the cost per GB as well as Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.

We strive to make a positive impact and this is why where there is no grid availability and the terrain is favorable, we have deployed solar energy panels to reduce diesel dependency while under a CSR initiative providing clean energy to 200 households situated near our towers.

Our energy solutions are specifically designed keeping in mind the power infrastructure dynamics of Pakistan. Commercial Power (CP) is our primary energy source to operate the sites while the backup is provided through state-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries. Apart from CP, we also use Diesel Generators (DGs) where grid availability is less than 16 hours.

What are some of the challenges edotco is facing in the TowerCo business?

TowerCo is not an easy business rather it is intensive in terms of capital and operations. Patience is the key when we seek high returns in this particular industry.

As for Pakistan, the slow return on investment is a worrisome factor because the economy is driven by high stagflation. These factors heavily influence the decision of our shareholders when they consider injecting equity into the business.

Right now our biggest challenge is import restrictions. The unavailability of equipment imported from China restricts the company from rolling out new sites.

We are corresponding with the government to ease import restrictions so that we can continue to provide essential services to unserved and unconnected regions.

Another major challenge we are dealing with regularly is the delay in the deployment of Commercial Power. Due to the challenging terrain, we are unable to set up solar panels on every site and use DG to power the site instead.

Theft of power equipment, particularly lithium-ion batteries is another issue that we are trying to resolve with the help of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA).

Lastly, the telecom industry is being charged with high electricity tariffs besides being elevated to industry status by the government. This has a significant impact on our operating expenses.

Once the government implements the finance bill we will experience a reduction in the overall expenditure which will help us reinvest our funds in building better infrastructure in the future.

What is the future of the tower industry in Pakistan?

There are 42,000 communication towers installed across Pakistan serving around 194 million customers nationwide. We aim to deploy another 25,000 towers by 2030 to foster digital inclusion and bring unserved communities under the coverage of voice and mobile broadband.

We also own a major portion of building USF sites mainly in the Southern Region and have embarked upon a program to fiberize our sites considering the staggering growth in data usage and demand.

Is Pakistan ready to welcome 5G technology and what’s edotco readiness to make it a reality?

5G technology requires at least 99.99% uptime which means 4.38 minutes of downtime every month. To successfully launch 5G technology it is crucial to maintain the power on our sites, i.e., provide an uninterrupted power supply to keep the telco equipment energized at all times.

The existing power infrastructure is not sufficient to power up 5G. Considering the power infrastructure outlook of the country, maintaining 5G is going to be a humongous challenge, and to bridge this gap, we will need to upgrade our energy infrastructure and use high-end batteries, rectifiers, etc., to energize our sites.

Depending upon the spectrum type, if MNOs use high-end frequencies like C-band and Millimeter Wave (MM Wave) to support huge data demand, the telco sector will require densification, particularly in urban areas like Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi.

This means massive deployment of 5G small cells on street light poles and every building, public or private as well as the edge data centers to realize 5G specific use-cases.

We support the government’s ambition to launch 5G services as soon as possible but we also demand that the policymakers understand the predicament of the industry which is under deep financial stress.

Together with the authorities, we are dedicated to offering inclusive solutions and helping bridge the digital divide by making Pakistan’s digital vision a reality.

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