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Inclusive and sustainable policy interventions for 5G urged

By Rasheed Khalid
April 16, 2023

Islamabad: Omar Malik, Member Telecom, Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications has said that his ministry is all set to launch infrastructure sharing framework after the cabinet's approval.

Mr Malik was speaking at a webinar on “Adopting 5G to positively impact environment: a roadmap for Pakistan” organised here by Sustainable Development Policy Institute.

Mr Malik further said that initiatives like spectrum and infrastructure sharing will play a crucial role in improving connectivity, reducing network disruptions and lowering environmental impacts. Referring to a study conducted in collaboration with World Bank which revealed optic fibre penetration a key barrier, he informed that since 2020, the total deployment of fibre optic in Pakistan increased from 124,000 km to 190,000km. Additionally, he said, economic instability and consumer affordability are other challenges hindering launch of 5G in the country.

Khalid Khan, Chairperson, Central Asian Cellular Forum, said that advancement to 3G and 4G had transformational impacts on other sectors including transport, fintech etc. He emphasised human resources being the top exportable commodity and urged to promote competitive engineering skills to capture potential growth of global IT sector. He encouraged government to focus on larger picture of connectivity through supportive policy interventions rather than perceiving them as revenue generating avenues.

Abdul Rehman Usmani, VP, Jazz, stressed that rather than hastening 5G’s launch, the best approach is to develop use cases and sustainable business model to prevent consumers reverting to 4G due to limited utility. He stressed developing a conducive ecosystem through R&D centres, regulatory regime, cost-effective spectrum denominated in rupees.

Dr Fareeha Armughan from SDPI said that 5G will lead to acceleration of modern financial services, cloud computing, Artificial Intelligence with banks already keen to shift to fast and easy to use financial services over conventional banking. There is no better tool than combining mobile and financial services for looping in the vulnerable communities in the economy and moving the needle on full circle of poverty alleviation.

Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri, Executive Director, SDPI, stressed that penetration of 1 trillion interconnected devices is projected in the future and will increase lithium consumption by 4 times. He stressed new self-energising and energy harvesting techniques and capturing electro-magnetic waves produced from these interconnected devices through micro-antennas to meet energy demand.

Aslam Hayat, ICT regulatory expert, highlighted that adoption of 5G offers potential advantages of energy efficiency, catalyse uptake of renewables, efficient resource management, reduction in greenhouse emissions by adoption of smart technologies particularly in transport sector and improvement in air quality.

However, he highlighted that these come with their disadvantages which include a sharp rise in electricity demand and consumption, increase in e-waste load when consumers will switch to latest 5G enabled devices and negative implications on environment, biodiversity, habitats and ecosystems due to infrastructure development.

Fawad Sarwar, Solutions Architect at Ericsson, Australia, highlighted that telecom and IT contribute 1.4% to global greenhouse gas emissions but by 2030, economic and industrial digitalisation will have out-sized influence of 50% emissions. He stressed a three-pronged approach of sustainable network evolution, expanding and modernising it and operating intelligently to break the energy curve and reduce environmental footprint.

Maryam Shabbir Abbasi, Research Coordinator at University of Vermont highlighted that developed countries offer emission reduction success stories achieved by adoption of 5G-enabled technologies in industries. She stressed that Pakistan 5G can enhance early warning systems, connectivity, intelligence and information dissemination during climate disasters like the recent floods.