The debate on whether the time is suited to introduce 3G technology in Pakistan has gained a lot of momentum since the past year. Does 3G appear to be a plausible changeover after the apparent flop of Wimax technology in Pakistan?Or is the market ready to take a plunge in to the 3G world that has taken over not only the developed but even the emerging economies such as China and India?

It is an established fact that out of a teledensity of 60.2%,  the mobile user penetration has reached almost 58.3% as of March ’09 with around 91.4 cellular subscribers in Pakistan (PTA). One might consider that with such …

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3G in Pakistan: a lost cause or an achievable reality?

The debate on whether the time is suited to introduce 3G technology in Pakistan has gained a lot of momentum since the past year. Does 3G appear to be a plausible changeover after the apparent flop of Wimax technology in Pakistan?Or is the market ready to take a plunge in to the 3G world that has taken over not only the developed but even the emerging economies such as China and India?

It is an established fact that out of a teledensity of 60.2%,  the mobile user penetration has reached almost 58.3% as of March ’09 with around 91.4 cellular subscribers in Pakistan (PTA). One might consider that with such a large number of mobile users, the market for introducing 3G is undoubtedly present. True, the trend is moving towards purchasing 3G compatible handsets, but the fact of the matter is, that is this transaction on the basis of the “cool features” or the usefulness of the product? I’ve seen many people, who might not even be aware of how to type a text, purchase a cellphone that boasts such “fancy” features.

This brings me to my second point, that even with such a deep penetration, the rate of GPRS subscribers has still not reached a handsome amount, specially if compared to India. The number of people using facebook on their cell phones is undoubtedly increasing but yet again this ratio is still very minute. Coupled with a low GPRS subscriber rate is the low broadband penetration. Even with low rates and high speeds, the rush towards broadband subscription lacks the heat. Therefore, the picture that comes to the mind is that Pakistan is evidently not ready for 3G.

However, the flip side of the coin shows a different picture. To have access to broadband, first and foremost a PC or a laptop is required. The cost of a PC starts at around $400 and is surely not in harmony with the average income per capita. 3G handsets, on the other hand, have had a sharp decrease in their prices and cost no more than $70. The picture that now pops up is that with a single 3G handset the probability of a high rate of internet users can easily be worked up on.

However, up comes another drone attack from the anti-3G minds : low literacy rate in Pakistan poses a hindrance for the success of 3G. This might, to some extent, really appear to be a rock in the path. But again, one needs to realize that out of a population of 17crore, 56.8% own a handset. And this 56.8%, if not knowing how to text, can easily attend a call and make one as well. 3G, is not just limited to data packages but also provides other benefits, such as Video Conferencing. Say, if people can learn how to dial a number, how difficult can it possibly get for a person in Nathia Gali, to show on his cell phone, a live coverage of his serene surroundings?

Secondly, the major cell phone subscribers are the ones residing in the metropolitan cities of the country. And yes they do comprise of the educated class, who do tweet their status online throught their cell phone. This clique demands on-the-go high speed internet connectivity as well- a feat that can best be provided by 3G technology.

3G license auctioning has still not been executed, even though it has been a year since its inception. Is the governement ready to auction the spectrum and most importantly, are the cellular companies up for the challenge in the current economic scenario, where even the telecom sector of Pakistan has suffered a blow?

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23 Comments

  • Very nice analysis on prospects of 3G in PK. I belief its only a matter of time, technology cant be stopped or closed in a box. Sooner or later, its going to arrive, and for us tech-savies; sooner the better.

  • There is not a critical mass of internet users who will use their cellphones to access internet.

    video calls could have been a major factor to push people towards 3G. However it has not been very popular even in the countries where 3G existed for many years. In some cases less than 1% of the subscriber uses video calls. It seems that people simply do not want to talk face to face. Absence of a front facing camera on modern 3G phones (with larger screens) such as iPhone, Palm Pre, T-mobile G1, also indicates this trend.

    Looking at current situation, it seems that 3G might only be useful for people who want to access internet applications on their devices, and there are very few such people in Pakistan.

  • Hi ..There is one aspect of 3g need which is coming tho’ distant..the use of mobile devices for education and income generation. (eg,texteagle.com )
    It is certain that once apps takes off with the trend now to stop using them for games etc but for solving problems..it will lead to full scale training using video and later text.
    If the problem is reading skills ..these could be the first and most popular lessons ??

    It is time the unemployed students of Pakistan started to realise their real assets ..creativity using the perfect media video and digital products.. They can think their way successful inhouse..

    It just needs some entrepreneur/investor to run a pilot and use Guerilla marketing to promote it.

    ian

  • You said: “It is an established fact that the number of mobile user penetration has reached almost 92% in Pakistan”

    Correction: Teledensity is 58 percent

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  • Thanks for the great article here at your blog. I know it will help me and many others.

  • In these modern days, majority peoples in our country can operate internet, even i’d saw many un-educated persons using facebook/orkut, and at times downloading stuffs useful for their phones, if you want to see the proof, just visit to mobile markets and ask the shopkeepers how rapidly their customers are decreasing (who visited there for downloading purpose), and majority of customers go there to repair hardware faults, everyone now a days knows that downloding from the market is much costly thn downloading through ownself with their mobile, majority phones these days have dual camera for video calling, why pta is not showing any commitment to launch 3G is very difficult to say, mobile internet is major use of almost all mobile users! If pta thinks that many people don’t know how to type text, thn they can attract those peoples to 3G by telling them its advantages, comeon pta, 15kbps Gprs/Edge speed should b move to 40/50 Kbps, me also waiting anxiously for 3G

  • A good analysis However I disagree on 2 points:


    Pakistan is evidently not ready for 3G.

    Having low usage of GPRS does not mean Pakistan should not embrace 3G. One of the reason of low utilization of GPRS is the cost. At one side companies cutting the cost of broadband while on other hand they are not willing to cut the tariff for GPRS system and charging Rs.15/MB which are 4 years old rate.

    2ndly you mentioned low literacy rate. I think networks like 3G and their supported mobile apps can play important role to spread education in rural areas. Please do remember that usage of facebook/twitter via mobile is not something which one should feel proud of. The outer world is quite different and doing a lot by using mobile technologies for the betterment of humanity

  • While HTML5 which promises beetter experience for mobile users, would be playing an important role in coming days. Its just matter of few months when all mobile browsers will have tendency to find your your location in a web app and would be suggesting you relevant info while you are roaming around.

  • mohammad tamhid

    the artical is fine and professional, but it can not deny the usefulness of the 3Gfor pakistan, it is simple and clear that the GSM NETWORKS CAN NOT PROVIDE THOSE FACILITIES WHICH ARE OFFERED BY 3G. IT IS JUST LIKE REPLACING OLDER TECHNOLOGY WITH NEW ONW, IT WILL BE REPLACED BUT WILL TAKE TIME.INSHALA

  • 3G should available in Pakistan, Atleast in some field we have to move forward, world is progressing way faster thn us, and we are just standing in the same place, where world started to develop themselves! We are just thinking!

  • Would the voice quality over 3G be good, for example on Nokia E51 and on skype/fring or nimbuzz?

  • @Yasmeen – it is not exceptional as many would have hoped. I use a 3G network in UK but I really wouldn’t recommend to use skype/fring/nimbuzz for actual voice calls.

    One network in UK called 3, offers Skype but they uses their internet connectivity to offer login to the skype and then use the normal voice calls for a “skype call”.

  • Mustafain Meghani

    It is waste. We should embrace the truth of the Quran and focus on expelling all kafirs especially Americans. Sullying our minds with such Zionist Hindu technology will bring down our society. MMS and Cell Phones have already degraded our youth. 3G will make it worse.

  • @Mustafain , huh :S

  • Mustafain Meghani

    Ok someone please remove this comment with my name since I did not write it. I love America it is my home I dont know why someone used my name to write such a thing. Please remove these comments immediately.

  • Mustafain Meghani

    Please remove the comments from March 4th those were not written by me someone used my name

  • Hi Rimsha,
    you said “3G handsets, on the other hand, have had a sharp decrease in their prices and cost no more than $70”.
    Which 3G mobiles are these that cost Rs.6,000?? :S
    I guess u missed out something.

  • Please provide us full details of Mustafain Meghani as to what does he do and where does he reside.

  • Mustafain Meghani

    Mr Rums, why are you looking for my information. Someone has been going to different websites and making ridiculous comments using my name. I dont know know if this person shares my name or they are doing this on purpose. I have been trying to go around and ask websites to remove my name.

  • hello…….i want 3G in pakistan….we need it/….every body wants high speed internet access……pc for this purpose is used but why not a hand set with 3G support…every where while walking….its a good thing……pakistan should introduce 3G….and i m shure 80 % pakistanis are using internet….and many people use that slow GPRS on phones and hate the downloading speed on GPRS like me…..thay need a high speed 3G on there phones

  • the cheapest 3G handset i know is nokia 5230. which costs $162

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