ISLAMABAD: The GSMA, which represents the interests of 750 mobile operators worldwide, has projected that Pakistan will be at the lowest end in terms of smartphone users as well the 5G coverage among the selected countries of Asia Pacific region by 2025.

However, Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunication Syed Amin Ul Haque said key initiatives have been taken which will help the country surpass the projections made by the GSMA.

The GSMA report titled “The Mobile Economy Asia Pacific 2021’ has highlighted the 5G status in the region.

The report highlighted that South Korea was the first country to roll out 5G in 2018, followed by Australia, Maldives and New Zealand in 2019.

Key initiatives will help surpass the projections, says IT minister

The 5G rollout in 2020 was by Guam, Japan, Laos, Northern Mariana Islands, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, whereas Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia achieved it in 2021.

In the second wave Brunei Darussalam, India and Cambodia are set for 5G roll-outs in 2022, whereas Pakistan, Bangladesh and Samoa are set to launch 5G in 2023.

The report added over 80 per cent of connections in Asia Pacific will be smartphones by 2025 up from 68pc in 2020.

But among the list of selected 12 key countries, Pakistan was close to the tail end, just above Bangladesh and it has been projected that these two countries will not reach the 80pc benchmark.

The report added that up to 74pc of Pakistanis will use smartphones in the next four years up from 51pc, while smartphone users in Bangladesh are likely to be 62pc against 41pc in 2020.

At the same time by the end of 2025, around 42pc of population in Pakistan will be broadband user compared to 27pc in 2020, whereas 10pc will be under telecom coverage.

The GSMA has said that Pakistan’s mobile market has significant potential, but current levels of mobile internet adoption, smartphone take-up and usage of digital services lag behind those of other countries in the region.

Certain policy decisions may have hindered Pakistan’s digital development and hampered growth of the online economy.

Responding to the query over low growth projections, the IT minister said the estimates in the GSMA report have been made on the basis of ground realities in 2020.

“However, the results will be different in coming 18 months mainly because of three factors which includes IT and telecom infrastructure development under the Universal Service Fund (USF) projects and the outcome of upcoming spectrum auction which will expand IT and telecom services to a large un-served population,” Mr Haq said.

GSMA has added that markets with higher tax uncertainty score lower on infrastructure provision while a fair and balanced approach between collecting revenues through taxes and fees has the potential to create favourable conditions for investment and improve affordability.

The minister added that the third factor was the local manufacturing of smartphones, which will ensure availability of cheap mobile sets, eventually increasing penetration significantly.

The GSMA too has acknowledged the efforts of Pakistan regarding spread of IT and telecom services across the country.

“This is reflected by decisions in 2021 to initiate mobile-sector tax reforms and introduce right-of-way policies for infrastructure deployments,” the report notes, adding that the GSMA will also collaborate with the USF to reduce the digital divide and usage gap.

The GSMA has lauded the USF, highlighting that it played an important role in expanding network coverage in remote areas of Pakistan including mountainous terrains and sparsely populated areas, by awarding contracts worth around Rs85 billion during the last decade.

The GSMA report has also projected that by 2023 the economic contribution of the mobile industry in Pakistan could reach $24 billion, accounting for 6.6pc of GDP.

The GSMA has said that these efforts will help strengthen Pakistan’s economy and contribute to the realisation of 9th Sustain Development Goal of build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation.

“Efficient and affordable ICT infrastructure and services allow citizens to participate in the digital economy, with significant impact in the areas of financial inclusion, poverty reduction and improved health,” the report said.

Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2021

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