finally returned to life Friday last, paralyzing the entire
socio-economic life due to disrupted communication network for almost
11 days in the country. According to PTCL, Dubai-based experts have
restored the fault developed in the undersea cable near Karachi.
sector, which has lately emerged as one of the fastest growing sector
of the country, however carries a big question mark about its gigantic
infrastructure which caved in to a tiny fault merely 12 km Southwest
of Karachi coast in deep Arabian Sea.
The fault that
developed late last month in the submarine fibre-optic link
incapacitated millions of Internet and telephone users. Satellite
link-ups have restored some services but damage had already been done.
"It is difficult to give the account of monetary losses now but it has
definitely caused millions of dollars potential losses and a lot of
intangible damage you cannot quantify," owner of the largest chain of
the US out-sourced call centres Farrukh Aslam said.
sector made a robust growth in the past few years after strings of
reforms and liberalization that increased the sector's contribution to
country's gross domestic product (GDP) to 1.8 percent in fiscal ended
June 30 from 1.5 percent in the previous year.
"How pathetic it is
on the part of planners and the leadership that despite making tall
claims of revolutionizing the sector they are banking on only one
fibre optic link to connect with the outer world," said Aslam who is
the President of Call Centres Association of Pakistan, which members
number about 25.
for IT and Telecom Sector Awais Leghari conceded Aslam's comments and
was concerned over cable failure. "Unfortunately this incident will
send a wrong message to the international community, especially to
those thinking setting up of call centres in Pakistan," Leghari was
quoted as saying in the local newspapers.
Telecom sector was
able to attract 207.1 million dollars foreign direct investment in the
fiscal 2003-04 and estimated to attract over two billion dollars in
FDI for the year 2004-05.
It has also helped
generate considerable employment and in the past two years it provided
direct or indirect employment to 341,622 Pakistanis, according to
representatives were also mournful of huge potential losses, which
they could have attracted from neighbouring India. The incident
exposed Pakistan's reliance on a single undersea telecommunications
cable running from the port city of Karachi to the Fujairah Landing
Station on the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where
it initially splits into two routes on its way to Europe and the
Americas. The cable, which connects South East Asia, Middle East, and
Western Europe thus is called SEA-ME-WE-3.
undersea cable provides high-quality voice and data transmissions but
is not 100 percent reliable, leading to the use of satellite backup
systems. Pakistan's satellite telecommunications systems have limited
capacity and delays of 400 to 500 milliseconds to and from the US,
down from 450 to 550 milliseconds in 2002. Delays in excess of 500
milliseconds are considered unacceptable for commercial call centre
traffic. This situation does not disqualify the placement of
mission-critical work in Pakistan, but it might make Pakistan appear
less competitive than more expensive and lower quality IT service
providers elsewhere in the region. In India there have been five such
trans-regional cables, which serve its telecom needs uninterrupted.
PTCL was not even
able to have a technical backup or even expertise to timely and
effectively know as to what was wrong with the cable despite knowing
that the fault was mere 12 kilometers off the Karachi coast. Technical
backup was pathetic on the part of cable operator i.e. Singtel as the
ship it ordered to sail to the faulty point did not carry facilities
to undertake submarine operation. So delay become rather indispensable
as it had to summon another ship from UAE with such facilities.
But the single-source
reliance has meanwhile doomed further expansion plans in IT sector.
The call centre industry was looking ahead to bring in a business of
about 1.5 billion dollars from India as the US principals were finding
substitute of the country and Pakistan has been tipped as an effective
alternative because of lower wages and better English accent.
Besides, call centres
online banking and airline businesses were another hits. "Our all
business including reservation, ticketing, check-ins and 500 agents
all around the world are web-based and it all affected badly," said
Nasir Ali, Director of Airblue, a private airline.
"We had to switch on
manual work and that was very difficult for us besides we suffered
severe damage to our market credibility," he said.
Company Limited (PTCL), which has been recently sold to Etisalat of
UAE as part of the country's privatisation plan, is trying to join
more cable links to forestall any future mishaps.
"We have already an
agreement in hand with a consortium of 13 companies which is laying
sub-marine cable and by October this year it would be operative," said
PTCL's Senior Vice President for Special Projects, Mashkoor Hussain.
The project envisages
adjoining 13 countries through the cable, for which a protocol was
signed in 2002. Fujitsu of Japan and Alcatel of France are laying the
500 million-dollar cable which offer higher capacity of communication
and called SEA-ME-WE-4. Besides Pakistan and other countries, the
cable would connect India, UAE, Egypt, France, Indonesia, Bangladesh
and Sri Lanka.
"We are also
negotiating with India to joining a cable passing near our common
border," he said.
But the industry is
not convinced of the government plans.
"I can bet you if the
cable comes in operation by October and I have all my doubts they
could successfully negotiate a deal with Indians," Aslam said and
added:" these are all bureaucratic and political lies."