By Waqas Naeem

When Pakistan was put into lockdown last year, people started using smartphones, tablet computers, and laptops to work, study, and stay connected. As new digital behaviors formed, the critical role of communications service providers in supporting a functioning society with flawless digital communication capabilities in times of crisis came to the forefront.

Handling mobile traffic in a huge country like Pakistan is a challenge for service providers. Combined with the increase in the use of smartphones and data, service providers know that they need to step up to meet the expectations of subscribers. Long Term Evolution (LTE), which is the 4G technology of today, brings unprecedented mobile broadband performance to millions of users across the country.

 

From an end-user perspective, data rates are not the only element of interest as latency (the time it takes to send a small packet through the network) is also crucial to the overall service experience. In fact, several services such as gaming are more interested in low latency than in high data rates.

Latency is one of the key performance numbers visible to the end-user and is often expressed as round-trip-time or ‘ping time’ when conducting a speed test, for example. LTE is already capable of delivering low latency and this is a major difference between 3G and 4G for many users in Pakistan.

The evolution to 4G serves two major advantages: revolutionizing mobile broadband-driven data experiences for mobile users, and the opening up of new enterprise opportunities in the Internet of Things (IoT) while laying the groundwork for the evolution to 5G.

Digital Evolution

With the overall vision of a Digital Pakistan, the connectivity layer becomes the baseline for the enabling of a comprehensive ecosystem for the 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 the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has brought a renewed focus on logistics, transportation, and the 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 a way that goods are produced and delivered – moving toward industrial automation and the flexible factory.

To stay competitive, factories and warehouses must leverage the Industrial IoT and digitalization to become more agile and efficient.

While industries have automated many processes, secure wireless connectivity allows industrial automation on a larger scale, and huge gains await the industries that cut the cord and go wireless. Wireless cellular connectivity supports business outcomes like 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 towards the inside of the plant and the actual assembly line.

If the IoT era that 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

When 4G was introduced in 2014, all the parts of the network were transformed, and will now also witness 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 accordingly.

As service providers acted quickly to cope with the changes, holding the dominant market position means never standing still. For the mobile operators that are already at the top, the growing demand for high-speed broadband has led to an increasingly fast-paced arena to compete in.

With mobile data traffic doubling every year, network modernization and expansion are key for Pakistan’s service providers to continue offering the best experience to their customers while reducing the total cost of ownership. Modernization will not only facilitate the future colocation of 5G on the existing LTE network but will also gear it up with features that reduce energy consumption and footprint, making the network more environmentally 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, regardless of whether it 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, we need increased focus on mobile broadband proliferation. What is needed now 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 the development of Pakistani society. If managed well, 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 is the cornerstone of the overall 5G solution and will, as such, continue to evolve for many years to come.

About the Author

Waqas Naeem is the Ericsson Pakistan Country Manager.