LAHORE – The telecom watchdog, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), and federal government are perhaps overly optimistic about the launch of 3G (third generation) telecommunication services in Pakistan by the end of 2011. Telecom sector experts believe that 3G telecommunication services are not economically viable in a country like Pakistan where the majority of telecom revenues are derived from voice traffic.

Speaking to Pakistan Today, a senior official in a leading cellular company said the third generation (3G) technology was simply a mobile broadband, which was primarily used for internet access, video conferencing, location based services, distance learning, transmission of data, online banking and gaming amongst other uses. He claimed the country had very limited demand for such services, but the telecom operators needed a good subscriber base to make investment decisions.
He said that the telecom sector was not ready to deploy 3G telecommunication services. Neither telecom operators nor subscribers were willing to adopt 3G technology, though a sufficient number of 3G compliant handsets had broken into the Pakistani market.
He pointed out that the country had a population of around 160 million out of which some 90 million were using mobile phones. Though the country had over 50 percent mobile phone teledensity, but this did not mean that the telecom sector was ready to adopt third generation technology. Currently, the country has barely five million General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) subscribers, which was nearly 4.5 percent of total mobile phone subscriber base, he emphasised.
Another telecom expert seconded the view that 3G technology might not be viable in Pakistan. He said that the telecom regulator and other stakeholders had made concerted efforts to make solid inroads for 3G technology in Pakistan. A number of seminars and conferences had been organised, but with real hope of success expected in the near future.
Responding to a query, he said it was true that a good number of 3G compliant BlackBerry, iPhone and other handsets had arrived in the country. But before undertaking any significant investment, telecom operators had to consider the percentage of users and their telecommunication requirements. He revealed that out of a total of 90 million mobile phone subscribers, only three percent had BlackBerry subscription, which clearly indicated that data telecommunication services had no scope in the country.
He stressed that the introduction of third generation telecommunication services were neither economically nor technologically viable for most of the telecom operators. He pointed that out of five mobile telecom operators only few are technological advanced, while the rest had to make a totally new investment.
A senior official in PTA Headquarters, Islamabad, said that though the telecom regulator was determined to introduce new technologies in the country; there were several obstacles in the way of new investment. Political and economic instabilities and poor demand for data services were also characterised as major hurdles in attracting new investment in 3G technology, he added.
He disclosed that Pakistan had already partially adopted 3G technology and several operators had already undertaken investments in new technology. He said the 3G technology had two streams, including Code Division Multiples Access (CDMA) and Global System for Mobile communication (GSM) and many operators were already offering 3G services using CDMA spectrum. He pointed out that WiMax and EVDO, both were based on third generation technology. He said the main application of 3G technology was to provide high speed data on the move and it was already available in major cities.
In response to a query, he said that the PTA and the federal government were eying an investment of $1.0 billion, but it that it seems to be a distant possibilty. With telecom operators reluctant to make more investment in an already saturated market, he discounted the possibility of the service. He underlined that only a few major cities had sufficient demand for data related services, while the rest of the country only required standard voice services. In addition it was noted that Pakistan had other impediments in the way of 3G technology as well. He pointed out that the country had low literacy rate, there was hardly any mobile content available in local languages and low demand of data related services.