The local assembly of mobile phones is increasing in Pakistan, but what perturbs the industry experts is that an overwhelming majority of these is 2G only handsets. These handsets, according to them, deprive owners of a better life experience and are a hurdle in universal digitalisation. Besides, they think, 3G technology must also be done away with for being obsolete and focus shall be on 4G rollout in real terms.
Industry representatives talked to The News and shared their opinion on this issue.
Irfan Wahab, CEO, Telenor, Pakistan shares that 4G coverage is growing in the country every passing day - Telenor today covers close to 70 percent Pakistani population through its 4G network. While coverage is there, smartphone penetration in the base remains low and we need to encourage and incentivise more smartphones and set an ambition like "Internet for all" for digitisation opportunities, he adds.
Furthermore, Wahab says, Pakistan has only deployed half the spectrum deployed by neighbouring Iran, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and 1/4th of Saudi Arabia, Korea, and New Zealand for the entire industry which is a serious negligence on part of policymakers.
Aamir Ibrahim, CEO, Jazz, says there is a need to do something radically different on the policy level as a significant number of users still have basic, voice-only devices and it is highly impractical to expect a digital revolution when a large number of people in the country own 2G-only handsets. The biggest barrier, according to him, to the provision of internet connectivity to the lower-income segments of society remains the affordability of smartphones.
“Keeping in view that majority of the local manufacturers are producing 2G-only handsets, policy interventions should instead prioritise the assembly of 4G compatible smartphones while banning the production and import of 2G phones.”
Ibrahim suggests operators should be enabled to sell smartphones on instalments with a loan recovery mechanism. This way, he says, they will ensure their subscribers stay with them during the loan maturity period and enjoy a better life experience with their exposure to the digital world.
He also suggests it is time to get rid of 3G which is obsolete and go for the rollout of 4G network across the country. “Pakistan requires a strong digital infrastructure that is robust fibre and reliable 4G at a decent speed.”
Khurram Mehran, Director Public Relations at the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), tells The News that the authority has already initiated the phase of encouraging smartphone manufacturing, which is essential for fast-paced digitalisation.
He shares figures which according to him suggest that the percentage of smartphones assembled in Pakistan as compared to that of 2G only mobile handsets has increased considerably over the last couple of years.
In 2019, 11.6 million 2G mobile handsets were assembled in the country as compared to 119,000 smartphones. In 2020, 10.4 million 2G mobile handsets were assembled against 2.16 million smart phones, and in 2021 (up till March 28) 4.06 million 2G mobile handsets have been assembled against 1.5 million smartphones. This trend shows things are improving, he concludes.
The writer is a staff member