Pakistan, the fifth-most populous country in the world, has undergone significant digital transformation over the last decade since the introduction of 3G/4G services. Mobile broadband access has provided most Pakistanis with endless opportunities to acquire knowledge, conduct online business, and engage in entertainment.

This connectivity and high-speed internet have supported the growth of new business models in logistics (ride-hailing services), food delivery, e-commerce, and mobile/internet banking.

The launch of next-generation mobile services in 2014 marked a turning point for Pakistan, transforming numerous aspects of daily life. According to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), broadband subscribers surged from 3.79 million in June 2014 to 136m by April 2024, adding 132.3m subscribers in a decade and creating a robust digital business ecosystem.

During this period, various new internet-enabled businesses have emerged in Pakistan in tandem with developments in the rest of the world. For instance, an app-based ride-hailing service launched in 2015 gradually expanded its operations to 10 cities.

By the end of 2022, the company had completed 299m rides in Pakistan — the highest, compared to 242m rides in Saudi Arabia and 230m in Egypt, despite both of these being larger and more stable economies.

In 2014, one of Pakistan’s leading e-commerce stores reported hitting 1,000 orders per day. This figure surged to 8,000 per day by 2017 and increased elevenfold by 2021.

Similarly, a leading food delivery app completed roughly 150,000 orders a day, amounting to about 4.5-5m orders a month, highlighting a disruption in the food industry.

A leading food delivery app completes roughly 150,000 orders a day, amounting to about 4.5–5m orders a month, highlighting the disruption in the food industry

Internet and mobile banking also saw substantial growth during this period. In 2014, users of these services numbered 1.6m and 1.8m, respectively. By the end of 2023, these figures had risen to 16.3m and 10.8m. This shift toward cashless transactions has saved time and billions of dollars for both state and commercial banks.

Broadband technology enables consumers and service providers to connect without needing an intermediary, fostering new business growth dimensions. The importance of high-speed internet was felt by everyone during the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused significant disruption with lockdowns.

Enabled by broadband internet, the novel concepts of e-health and e-education became the norm, with many doctors and schools opting for online options. Telemedicine, distance learning and work-from-home trends have continued ever since due to convenience.

Over the past decade, the export of IT and IT-enabled services increased dramatically, from $330m to $3 billion by the end of the current fiscal year. This growth was driven by more companies willing to outsource as well as the expansion of the IT industry, with more companies, software houses, and qualified professionals.

With the advent of 5G services, internet speed can increase by a 100 times

In the next five to 10 years, the adoption of new technologies via the internet will continue transforming industries driven by automation and artificial intelligence. This transformation will dramatically impact the lives of many.

We anticipate that artificial intelligence (AI) will be leveraged in financial services, digital healthcare, and hospitals where robots perform surgeries and routine procedures. Diagnostic systems will become automated, and decision-making at critical stages will improve significantly.

With the advent of 5G services, broadband internet speed will increase to 10 Gbps. This is about 100 times faster than the peak speeds of 4G and will enable the Internet of Things (IoT) applications in areas like agriculture, clean energy, and water solutions. Smart cities and buildings will be designed, and augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) devices will be used to communicate globally.

However, as AI becomes a household commodity, it will significantly impact the job market. While it will create new opportunities and enhance productivity, it will also lead to the displacement of certain roles. It will displace routine and repetitive tasks, as well as administrative and supportive roles, and create new opportunities for humans to focus on strategic planning and creative thinking.

Preparing the workforce through reskilling and upskilling programmes, along with thoughtful policy and ethical considerations, will be crucial in managing this transition effectively. Digital transformation and its benefits can enhance society and the economy through sustainable policies, investments in human capital, and collaboration with stakeholders.

The writer is the co-founder of global IT company, 10Pearls

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, July 8th, 2024

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