COVID-19 has provided the telecom sector of Pakistan an opportunity to expand further and to strive for reducing existing digital inequality in the country.

The experts from the telecom sector said this during a webinar on ‘Future of Telecom Industry amid COVID-19 with special focus on Pakistan’ organized by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).

Muhammad Arif Sargana, Director General Commercial Affairs Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit every sector of the economy but on the contrary, it proved to be an opportunity for the telecom industry. He informed the participants that currently, there are more than 83 million users in Pakistan while revenue stands at Rs. 468 million with investments of more than Rs. 500 million.

He said PTA is trying to ensure that everybody stays connected. The government has set up a task force, decreased taxes, and initiated other measures to provide further relief to the sector and its consumers. Availability of fiber cable facility to the entire country is also being made possible and PTA wants to ensure that no location remains out of reach of service, he added.

Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri, Executive Director SDPI, viewed that great things are coming out of this pandemic. Digitization in the country and improvement of the telecom sector is seen as silver lining. He said that COVID-19 is not only a warning in the context of biological pandemic and climate change but also a catalyst for increased dependency on digital connectivity.

“We must remove digital inequality and advance the agenda of transparency and accountability,” Dr. Suleri said while sharing his dismay that no work has been done for data storage which is imperative to start a journey towards digital revolution in the country.

Mr. Parvaiz Iftikhar, International ICT Consultant, was of the opinion that because of COVID-19, the world has been moved toward a virtual model. He said that the telecom sector in Pakistan is directly linked to how broadband is handled, and broadband depends on the spectrum, therefore, the government plans to release at least 200 megahertz of spectrum.

Chairman Gallup Pakistan Dr Ijaz Shafi Gilani opined that COVID-19 has ushered in the possibility of a new upheaval and everything in the world is being redefined. He said the breaking of hegemonies of power and money may cause a power shift. He said that Pakistan has immense potential in the sector which needs to be tapped fully.

Naveed Khalid, Group Chief Regulatory Officer PTCL, informed the participants that the government has introduced various kinds of relief to users. “We need to accelerate the licensing of all IMT spectrum, reduce licensing fees including spectrum fees and provide facilitation for use of new FWA networks.” He suggested that instead of making haste into policymaking, we need to make a properly thought-out plan.

Madiha Parvez, Head of Corporate Innovation Telenor Pakistan, said when this pandemic hit the world, the telecom sector helped people to connect and made this connectivity possible. She said that for our future, the progress could be slow, but the direction is right.

Maaz Javed, Project Associate SDPI, said that the telecom sector has done very well during the current pandemic time. Brig. Muhammad Yasin (R), Senior Advisor, CLD, SDPI, earlier introduced the participants to various dimensions of work being produced by SDPI, including the evidence-based research on various sectors of the economy.