ISLAMABAD: Almost entire Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan have telephone coverage, but the internet services are limited to 40 per cent areas of the region and that too is mainly the 3G network.

According to the Pakistan Tele­com­­munication Authority (PTA) Annual Report 2021, the teledensity in the region increased by 8.3pc over the previous year 2019-20 to 95.4pc in AJK and GB which is much higher than that of mainland Pakistan.

The PTA has said that the subscribers’ growth rate has witnessed a fluctuating trend over the last five years, the average annual growth rate hovered at 12pc.

SCO internet services only available in major urban centres

At the same time, the consumer trend shows that Telenor and Special Communication Organisation (SCO) were the preferred choices of the population because of their relatively larger footprint in the region, compared to the other three operators.

Telenor has over 2.3 million subscribers in both the regions, while Zong too has penetrated well with one million just behind SCO with 1.5m subscribers.

During 2020-21, Telenor grabbed 42pc of the market share, becoming a dominant player in the region.

Despite the availability of both 3G and 4G internet services, the 3G network was widely prevalent in the region.

The SCO was the largest fixed broadband service provider in the region, but its fast internet speed was only available in Gilgit, Karim­abad and Skardu in GB and in Muzaffarabad and Mirpur city in the AJK.

The SCO is a public sector organisation under the Ministry of IT & Telecom, established in 1976 to develop, operate and maintain all telecom services in AJK & GB.

There are only 2.38m broadband subscribers in the region with 1.74m in the AJK and 0.645m in GB, with majority shares of 1.07m with the SCO followed by Telenor with 0.801m subscribers.

The annual report said that while the communication services were shifting to the wireless mode globally, the importance of fixed lines will continue to dominate in the region due to the difficult terrain.

Due to this fact, there are only 1,687 mobile phone towers in both GB and the AJK, since 2006 when the mobile companies were granted permission to operate in the region after the devastating earthquake.

Among these Telenor has the largest number of 476 cell sites followed by the state-owned SCO with 422 cell sites and Zong 368.

At the same time, the PTA has expressed confidence over the significant growth of telecom and internet services in the current year and in the near future, mainly due to the additional spectrum launch for the region in September 2021.

Besides, the PTA has highlighted that the benefits of Pakistan-China internet cable will be reaped by the consumer of GB.

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2022

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