As Pakistan went into lockdown last year, residents used smartphones, tablet computers and laptops to work, study and stay connected. As new digital behaviours formed, the critical role of communications service providers to support a functioning society with flawless digital communication capabilities in times of crisis became obvious.
For service providers, being able to handle mobile traffic in a huge country like Pakistan is a challenge. Combined with the increase in smartphones and data use, service providers know they need to act to meet the expectations of subscribers. Long Term Evolution (LTE), the 4G technology, today brings unprecedented mobile broadband performance to millions of users across the country.
From an end-user perspective, not only data rates are of interest. The latency, that is, the time it takes to send a small packet through the network, is also relevant for the overall service experience. In fact, several services, for example, gaming, are more interested in low latency than high data rates.
The latency is one of the key performance numbers visible to the end-user often expressed as round-trip-time or “ping time”; for example, when conducting a speed test. LTE is already capable of delivering low latency and this, for many users in Pakistan, is a major difference between 3G and 4G.
The evolution to 4G serves two major advantages – revolutionizing mobile broadband-driven data experiences for mobile users and opening up new enterprise opportunities in Internet of Things (IoT), while laying the groundwork for evolution to 5G.
The digital evolution
With the overall vision of a Digital Pakistan, connectivity layer becomes the baseline for enabling a comprehensive ecosystem for interaction of users and platforms. There is a multitude of verticals from health and education to large-scale manufacturing that stand to gain from high speed connectivity and digital transformation.
The advent of China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has brought renewed focus on logistics, transportation, and industry. In the medium to long term, the industrial sector needs to embrace Industry 4.0. Industry 4.0 is about the significant transformation taking place in the way goods are produced and delivered – moving toward industrial automation and the flexible factory. To stay competitive, factories and warehouses must leverage the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) and digitalization to become much more agile and efficient.
While industries have automated many processes, secure wireless connectivity allows industrial automation at a much larger scale. Huge gains await industries that cut the cord and go wireless. Wireless cellular connectivity supports business outcomes such as flexible production by allowing smart factories to rapidly changeover production lines to shorten lead times. In our case, we can start with inventory management, tracking and logistics before moving to inside the plant and the actual assembly line.
If the Internet of Things (IoT) era we are now entering is to be more inclusive and empowering, we need to start by examining the fundamental nature of the physical world fueled by digital connectivity. Mobile technology is essential for development and Pakistan cannot hope to achieve economic sustainability without adequate 4G service deployment and digital connectivity.
The role of service providers
With the introduction of 4G in 2014, all parts of the network were transformed which will now also see a new 4G overlay formed over the next few years to complement the 2G and 3G networks. Mobile phones, radio, backhaul, and core networks went through a major change.
As service providers acted quickly to cope with the changes, holding the dominant market position means never standing still. For mobile operators already at the top, a growing demand for high speed broadband has led to an increasingly fast-paced arena in which to compete.
With mobile data traffic doubling every year, network modernization and expansion is key for Pakistan’s service providers to continue offering the best experience to their customers while reducing total cost of ownership. Modernization will not only facilitate future colocation of 5G on existing LTE network, but it will also gear it up with features that reduce energy consumption and footprint, making the network more environment-friendly while reducing operating costs.
By making digital transformation real and effective through 4G expansion, service providers will enable their customers to enjoy enriched experiences, whether that means fast video and media access for subscribers, or IoT business innovation and opportunities for enterprises.
The Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of expansive high-quality connectivity, which is required to ensure social equity and a non-distortive platform for economic innovation. Remote connectivity for students across major cities and the rapid rise of freelancing are real life use cases on the ground. As Pakistan plans its recovery, there is a strong case for a policy rejuvenation.
If policymakers are serious about delivering gigabit connectivity and enabling cross-sector innovation that can drive growth and recovery, then we need increased focus on mobile broadband proliferation. What is now needed is a framework that embeds 4G (both network and device ecosystem) squarely in the efforts to address economic recovery and inclusive development in Pakistan.
Finally, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and broadband are central to our society’s development. If well managed, ICT can provide inclusive socio-economic development and has the potential for rapid service improvements and digital readiness. As such, 4G is a key part of the vision of a Digital Pakistan and a cornerstone of the overall 5G solution and will, as such, continue to evolve for many years to come.
(The writer is Ericsson Pakistan Country Manager. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the newspaper)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021