Pakistan set to launch 5G connectivity by 2022 after ‘loud and clear’ test call

KARACHI: Pakistan is set to launch 5G mobile phone connectivity in the country by December 2022 following a successful test call between Islamabad and Beijing earlier this month.

Information Technology and Telecommunications Minister Syed Aminul Haque told Arab News on Sunday that the November 4 test call was “a wonderful experience. The voice was loud and clear, and the video (quality) was also wonderful.

“I think December 2022 is the ideal date (to launch 5G service) because it would take one to two years to improve infrastructure and increase fiber penetration across the country,” he said.

Once implemented, it would place Pakistan among several emerging countries – such as Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, India and Sri Lanka – to launch super-fast mobile internet service over the next two years. .

“It means that when advanced modern technology comes to Pakistan, the country will make great economic progress,” Haque added.

According to a June report from the GSM Association (GSMA), an industry body representing mobile network operators around the world, 5G services are expected to grow from “zero connections in 2018 to 2.8 billion in 2025”.

About $67 billion will be spent on mobile networks in South Asia between 2019 and 2025, including $3.5 billion in Pakistan alone, according to the GSMA report.

Haque said that since 5G connectivity works over fiber optic networks, the “government is working on this baseline requirement” to make the process easier.

“We are in contact with the relevant stakeholders to improve and modernize the infrastructure. We will launch 5G in 2022 and prepare its (spectrum) auction,” he said.

The minister took part in the test call – which used 5G NSA (non-autonomous access) technology – between China Mobile Communications Corp., Beijing, and Zong in Islamabad.

NSA 5G generally relies on 4G network facilities to provide more speed and higher data bandwidth, while a 5G-enabled smartphone can connect to either 5G or 4G service, depending on network conditions.

The NSA configuration allows operators to leverage their existing network investments in communications and mobile core, instead of deploying a new core for 5G.

In a statement after the trial, Zong Chairman and CEO Wang Hua said, “5G is about to be widely deployed around the world and its commercialization is progressing steadily. Our 5G test call brings Pakistan closer to the 5G era where the possibilities are endless for users.

There are 169 million mobile phone users in the country, of which 85 million subscribe to 3G/4G services, according to the Telecommunications Authority of Pakistan.

The main players are Jazz, backed by the Dutch company Veon Ltd; Telenor Pakistan, backed by Norwegian state-controlled Telenor; Zong, owned by China Mobile; and Ufone, which is controlled by state-owned Pakistan Telecommunication Co. Ltd.

The GSMA estimates that by 2023, the economic contribution of the mobile phone industry in Pakistan will reach $24 billion, which will represent 6.6% of the total gross domestic product.

Meanwhile, mobile operators say the 5G service would “revolutionize” Pakistan’s socio-economic landscape once launched in the country.

Maheen Akhtar, PR manager at Zong, told Arab News: “4G is changing lives and 5G is changing society. It will drive socio-economic growth, foster intelligent connectivity and synergy of cloud networks, and support the networked, digital and intelligent transformation of traditional industries.

“It will also create new opportunities for social development and promote open sharing and holistic use of resources, rational allocation and effective collaboration,” she said.

Haque said that with “4G penetrating at a rate of 2 million users per month”, it is expected to take the lead in Pakistan by 2022, reaching 129 million connections by 2025.

While the launch of 5G connectivity could spell greater success for Pakistan’s telecom sector, it could also become a cost concern for many in the country that has the highest tax payments and fees for consumers and mobile operators among developing countries in Asia.

Consumers pay about six types of levies while operators pay 11, including a 30% corporation tax. A tax directory published by the Federal Board of Revenue for the 2017 tax year ranked Telenor and Jazz among the nation’s top corporate taxpayers.

Haque, however, stressed that “taxes would be reduced through political measures” within the next two weeks.

“Certainly, I think taxes should be minimal,” he said, adding that the ministry, in consultation with all stakeholders, had “made a policy which was adopted by the ECC (coordinating committee economical) and after that she will go to the wardrobe.

“You will see in the next few weeks a clear tax policy will be released whereby taxes will be reduced,” he said.

Pamela W. Robbins