Ericsson-Pakistan’s country manager Aamir Ahsan Khan is one of those persons who strongly believe that “limitless connectivity” for everyone can change lives for the better, redefine businesses and pioneer a sustainable future.
“I think connectivity should be treated as a basic need to bridge the existing digital divide across social, economic, gender and regional lines,” he argues in an interview with Dawn. “Connectivity and technology must be used as enablers. Digital Pakistan relies heavily on the access to mobile broadband across Pakistan, from villages to cities alike.”
Pakistan has come a long way since the establishment of the Pakistan Posts & Telegraph Department in 1949, which, he says, laid the foundation for the nation’s focus on connectivity to bridge society and business. In recent years, Pakistan has seen a dramatic increase in mobile broadband penetration and strong growth driven by further adoption of 4G and eventually 5G services is predicted.
According to a recent report, Unlocking Pakistan’s Digital Potential, Pakistan’s digital transformation can help it unlock up to Rs9.7 trillion in annual economic value by 2030 or equivalent to about 19 per cent of the country’s GDP in 2020.
The policy focus should be more on providing the right speed to our consumers and the right amount of spectrum to our operators to serve the growing demand
With the government working on a new policy to roll out 5G telecommunication technology sooner than later, the question is: Is Pakistan ready for this as consumers face serious challenges of inadequate quality and slowing mobile internet speed because of the congested networks of the mobile operators who are starved for spectrum to improve their service quality?
Mr Khan says the Covid pandemic has forced us to move forward towards the digitisation of the economy. There has been tremendous growth in digital banking and e-commerce has thrived in the last two years.
“Pakistan has actually benefitted whenever it has moved forward in technology. On 5G telecommunication technology readiness, there are two opinions: one, the country should wait for the right time before getting ready and updating technology; the other is that first, we update technology and then convert our ecosystem onto it,” Mr Khan says.
“When we deployed 3G/4G telecommunication technology in 2014, we were thrilled to see e-commerce develop in Pakistan in conjunction with the app economy and online businesses. With a young and vibrant population, mobile users in Pakistan have immediately proven to be tech-savvy with demand for data services doubling in traffic each year.
“In my view, the policy focus should be more on providing right speed to our consumers and the right amount of spectrum to our operators to serve growing demand. The government is working on a policy to introduce 5G technology, but it must also work on freeing up 4G frequency simultaneously for mobile telecommunication operators.”
He thinks that we need to assess the needs of our country based on our use-cases while making a decision. “For example, we should know if our agriculture and industry can be served with 4G, or do we need to update our technology to 5G or a combination of both before moving ahead.”
In Pakistan, Ericsson is in a ‘managed services business’, working for three mobile telecommunication operators — Jazz, Zong and Telenor. Besides, it offers IT managed services and mobile financial services platforms, as well as supplies microwave equipment for radio transmission.
The Swedish technology giant has recently injected equity of $31 million in its Pakistan operations as part of its long-term commitment to the country.
“We are expanding our footprints in Pakistan and expanding our operations from here to other regions,” Mr Khan points out.
Like most, Mr Khan knows that in spite of advancements in recent years, Pakistan still has scope for spectrum development.
“Spectrum in the telecoms business is like a highway, more spectrum is like a broader highway which can support better mobile broadband speeds and network quality,” he explains.
Mr Khan believes that the increase in mobile broadband is directly linked to an increase in GDP. “Our analysis shows that a 10pc increase in mobile broadband access raises GDP by 1-1.25pc. In the case of markets like Pakistan, the ratio is 1.85pc. Looking at the long-term benefit on GDP rather than the short term gain from license fees has been proven to be a much better strategy.”
While 5G can solve several issues in the long run, he adds, “we should also look at alternative spectrum solutions simultaneously.” According to him, Ericsson has the capabilities to support operators monetising into new revenue streams. “Moreover, we must think about increasing fiberisation. Our 5G readiness and ecosystem development are dependent upon fiberisation. However, now the latest microwave offerings are also sufficient to cater for 90pc of the demands of 4G/5G networks.”
To a question on IT education quality in Pakistan, he says companies should offer training programmes, invest time and energy for developing quality human potential. “The gap between the industry and academia must be bridged to address the challenge of employability of IT graduates. Companies should encourage their trained graduates as they are our society and country’s future.”
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, March 28th, 2022