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ISLAMABAD: Several challenges and impediments including low handset and optic fibre cable (OFC) penetration, increasing inflation, low average revenue per user (ARPU), and rising operating expenses (OPEX) coupled with high taxation are stringed to launch 5G services in the country.

This was revealed in the official documents available with Business Recorder and was endorsed by the sector during background discussions.

Documents revealed that 5G handset penetration in the Pakistani market is a major impediment; the percentage of 5G-supported handsets in the country is less than one per cent.

While many developed countries have deployed 5G technology, Pakistan is beset with challenges in offering the said services. Further, low OFC penetration, fewer potential use cases, lower tower density, increasing inflation, low ARPU, and rising OPEX such as an increase in the prices of fuel and electricity, coupled with high taxation are some of the key factors that can potentially impact 5G launch.

International projections suggest that by the end of 2026, 5G will attract 3.5 billion subscriptions, thereby, generating approximately 45 percent of the world’s total mobile traffic data.

Pakistan’s large population, coupled with its potential for further economic growth, make access to 4G and timely launch of 5G services an absolute imperative. 5G is creating unprecedented opportunities for people and businesses alike, more so because its usage transcends the ICT sector.

Official documents further stated that the introduction of 5G is extremely important for Pakistan to keep pace with regional developments. Despite challenges which need to be addressed before a comprehensive 5G policy is issued by the government, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT) are making joint efforts to formulate the Infrastructure Sharing Framework, Spectrum Re-farming Framework, Spectrum Sharing, National Roaming, and Ease-of-Doing Business to accelerate 5G deployment. Once policy directions are in place for the commercial launch of 5G services, the PTA will accordingly seek the services of a consultant to devise a suitable auction design with comprehensive recommendations including incentives for investors, rollout models, implementation models, and diverse use cases development involving verticals.

Aligned with the government’s 5G roadmap, the PTA will also work with the industry and other stakeholders to provide detailed recommendations on 5G rollout in Pakistan. To support 5G, we need to increase the percentage of Fibre-To-The Tower/Site (FTTT/FTTS). Other technological developments and innovations for broadband proliferation such as Wi-fi 6E for enhanced latency Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) etc. will also be facilitated,” sector exporters stated.

Furthermore, the PTA will be required to augment its ongoing efforts for national and international collaborations to achieve the “Leading” G5 regulator status, and to proactively implement the “Digital Pakistan” vision. The documents noted that alongside government’s policy on the availability of 5G services, the MoITT and PTA are also planning spectrum auction for enhanced proliferation of LTE, Voice over LTE (VoLTE), and 5G services soon. Successful 5G tests have already been carried out in the country. The PTA will also pursue the availability of large contiguous bandwidth and prioritise and facilitate the roll-out of 5G.

The upcoming 5G services will require massive deployment of OFC, which connects micro base stations and edge nodes in the 5G network infrastructure; this will be an important factor driving the growth of fibre optic demand. The government of Pakistan needs to set suitable targets and take appropriate policy measures to accelerate fiberisation in Pakistan. Expecting a 5G-ready infrastructure will require strengthening of the 4G network, especially an increase in the percentage of FTTT/Site from the current 11 percent of the total deployed OFC, the official added.

The optical network and transmission system; however, is beset with challenges such as installation difficulty, preliminary installation cost, fibre cable cuts, and difficulty in tracing faults, among others.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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