Bell to Broadband (PTA on the Avenue of Achievements)


M. Farooq

The reliability, availability of connectivity and enabling regulatory environment & reforms, not only trusted the digital financial services but also boosted the e-commerce in the country

Bell to Broadband is a Tale of Telecommunication. The beginning of modern telecommunications in the nineteenth century is marked by the invention of telephone by Alexander Graham Bell which initiated new methods for long distance information transmission. Further progress followed by historical developments resulted to high speed mobile cellular broadband which led to more rapid and dramatic technical progress. Today, telecommunications governs nearly all economic, social, and scientific domains of life with ever-increasing intensity. This history of development of telecommunications is therefore not only of technical interest but also of general cultural importance. Being connected has rapidly become essential to our prosperity. An important resource in the modern world, broadband is a vital technology, promising to boost economic growth. Today, we have crossed the historic 110 million mark of broadband subscription in Pakistan – an outstanding achievement towards the realization of “Digital Pakistan” vision.
Undoubtedly, this milestone is a result of a challenging journey (5P-5G) starting from: 1) era of fixed line 2) deregulation of telecom sector 3) auction of 3G/4G spectrum and 4) introduction of test & trial framework for 5G technology. PTA continues to be at the forefront, playing its role in the digital revolution and facilitating the telecom sector on the avenue of achievements to make this journey a success story. PTA, under the given mandate, is proactively working on implementing the national priority goals and making efforts to bridge the digital divide to accomplish “Digital Pakistan” vision.
With over 114 million broadband subscribers with 52.02% penetration, 192 million mobile subscriptions with teledensity at 87.17%, most of the country’s population has access to internet/broadband services at one of the lowest rates in the region. This proliferation of the internet and smartphones has led to financial technology innovations. FinTech solutions have huge potential to change the way people think about, access, and use their money. State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) report indicates that e-banking transactions registered 31.1 percent year-on-year growth, which highlights substantial increase in adaption of digital means for payments. This growth was spurred by major uptake in mobile banking (29 percent increase in the number of users, 133.6 percent and 178.7 percent increase in volume and value respectively) and internet banking (32 percent increase in the number of users, 65.1 percent and 91.7 percent increase in volume and value respectively)”. The reliability, availability of connectivity and enabling regulatory environment & reforms, not only trusted the digital financial services but also boosted the e-commerce in the country. The number of e-commerce merchants reached 3,003, showing double-digit growth of 76 percent. Consumers carried out 21.9 million online transactions worth Rs60.6 billion on these locally registered e-commerce merchants during the FY2021, which amounts to significant year-on-year growth of 114.8 percent and 74.1 percent by volume and value of transactions respectively.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the world with far-reaching impact in various aspects of life and graphically illustrated the importance of digital networks, service platforms and broadband. In the midst of the crisis, PTA had successfully played its role supplementing Government of Pakistan’s efforts by effectively leveraging digital technologies for public awareness. The regulator ensured availability of robust and quality broadband and telecom services. Telecom operators implemented many initiatives under the instructions of PTA to facilitate their subscribers across the country; by offering discount packages and temporary upgrades at little to no cost and sending vital health SMSs directly to subscribers’ mobile phones to help protect them from COVID-19 amongst other endeavors. PTA also facilitated the operations by whitelisting IPs, and registering VPNs of businesses and educational institutes, and allocated short codes including 6677 for collection of funds in PM’s Pandemic Relief Fund & 8171 for Ehsas Programme registration free of cost. A report released by the Pakistan Citizen Portal highlighted PTA’s proactive role as a regulator in the immediate redressal of complaints and for consumer satisfaction. PTA also received ISO 9001:2015 quality management system certification, after a detailed audit conducted by accredited certification body British Assessment Bureau. An automated Lost & Stolen Device System (LSDS) for blocking of lost, stolen and snatched mobile phones has also been launched in 2021. LSDS is integrated with PTA’s Device Identification, Registration and Blocking System (DIRBS).
With ongoing 5G test & trials in the country, a promising environment and appetite for uptake of 5G technology can be foreseen. Certainly, such initiatives will promote the development of an eco-system which is conducive for economic prosperity. It is expected that such advancements will open doors for social and economic development opportunities that will make the dream of ‘Digital Pakistan’ a reality.
Growth and innovations in the telecom sector is having a positive impact not only on society, lifestyles and socio economic developments but also making significant contributions to nations’ GDP. Telecom sector has emerged as a prominent contributor to Pakistan’s economy since years and has shown a remarkable increase of 129% in FY2019-20 when compared to year 2018-19. Total contribution is PKR 228.4 billion including PTA direct deposits PKR 44.8 billion to national treasury in FY 2020-21. Total revenues of the sector reached PKR 644 billion in FY 2020-21 as compared to PKR 592 billion in FY 2019-20.
Over the years, PTA continues to share its experiences at international and regional forums including ITU, APT, SATRC, SAMENA Telecom Council, Mobile World Congress, GSMA and CTO. PTA has also been declared as the GSMA Centre of Excellence for regional regulatory training. There is a long struggle, tireless efforts, smart regulatory reforms, effective monitoring and collective efforts of telecom industry behind these achievements.
PTA is determined to ensure quality of service and enhance customer satisfaction. It is committed to make efforts to narrow the connectivity gap, bridge digital divide, ensuring gender equality and support the adoption of emerging technologies in the country. This will only be achieved with the support and confidence of the Government of Pakistan. As we witness the performance of the Authority and the rapid growth of telecommunication sector, it would not be out of place to call the current year: the year of telecommunication.