TELECOMMUNICATION VISION 2005

Globalization is no longer an option, it is a fact. Developing countries have either to learn to manage it far more skilfully or simply drown in the global cross currents. --- Late Dr. Mehmoob - ul - Haq

By Yousaf Haroon
Aug 12 - 18, 2002

IMPACT OF ICT REVOLUTION

After the industrial revolution, amongst an array of the much-vaunted financial benefits and promises of e-commerce resources, Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) are making seismic effects in societies both at the local and global levels creating a wave known as globalization. Globalization is a phenomenon which has turned this world into a global village. With the advent and convergence of Information Communication Technologies (ICT) i.e., telecommunications and computers have created an information super highway are affecting the economies of countries at macro-level and lives of people at micro-level alike and intensely. The rapid shift in the production processes of marketable goods and services from capital-intensive to knowledge-intensive has played a determining role in making Information Technology applications to bring economic and social change.

For the first time in human history, IT brings the opportunity to the realm of knowledge where the human mind is a direct productive force, not just a decisive element of the production system. Based on this potential of IT, we are astonished to see some of the innovative IT practices which have been directed to bring about a social change providing access to mass population. And to add space is needed where we could make the IT relevant for 150 million people in Pakistan.

South Asia where Pakistan is situated is a home to one-fifth of humanity, has much of the world's poverty, illiteracy, prone to human natural disasters. Access to education and technology, considered to be the remedial solution to such situation, are often owned by the wealthy and the powerful of the societies. As a result, even though the technical solution appears, the benefits do not reach the poor. It is no wonder, that South Asia with 23% of world population has less than 1% world internet users and only 2.5 people out of 100 having access to basic PSTN. So the technological solutions must be broad-based and must reach the masses at grass-root level to be effective.

Today national strategists try to find answer of some simple questions: Can a country like Pakistan ever achieve economic development? What are the solutions for Pakistan's problems: let it be poverty alleviation, economic development, political stability, social uplift, mass resource mobilization, literacy, infrastructure development, export promotion, human resource development and national capacity uplift in science and technology. Maybe IT and telecommunications infrastructure if combined with other sectors of economy can become the core enabler projecting remedial measures for all these social and economic problems. This is what today Pakistan Government and PTCL believe.

ROLE OF TELECOMMUNICATIONS

Once telecommunications is recognized as a key driver of national development then it is accepted that a robust communications infrastructure has fundamental to economic development. A modern and efficient telecommunications system is, therefore, a high priority, for both developed and developing economies. The policy issues and options faced by governments in modernizing their telecommunications sectors are fairly universal, although the relative importance of the issues and the strategies chosen to implement solutions are highly specific to both countries and regions. Telecommunications reforms has brought change-in four directions: commercializing operations; increasing private sector participation; introducing competition; and developing regulatory frameworks.

Communication in this millennium has become the name of the game. De-regulation of telecommunications has created a chain reaction of economic prosperity and innovation in new communications technologies uplifting the societies both at government and public level. This is somewhat paradoxical. That is at first people look towards governments expecting to address their basic needs, but get disappointed for poor or no response. Using IT today the governments are able to create plethora of opportunities and solutions to address the basic needs of the people for access of information, and basic services. The dilemma, however, is that the people are not yet ready for technological solutions which today IT is offering due to their unawarncess or for being not sensitized to technologies of IT and telecommunications. Whereas, local initiative like tele-medicine and tele-surgery, virtual university, e-commerce, e-government, has been able through internet to provide access to masses in far flung rural areas. A national strategy to educate people at mass level is already being implemented and has already seen staggering response from the people for whom IT means profits, earnings, income, employment, marriage, friendship, education, information and entertainment.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS POLICY FRAMEWORK IN PAKISTAN

The basic fixed telephony is facing intense competition from cellular mobile, VoIP, and other wireless-based services. A mini revolution seems to have sparked off due to enhanced switch, transmission and access capabilities.

Pakistan telecommunications industry is in a process of transition, moving away from a regulated state-owned monopoly to de-regulated competitive structure. Due to CPP regime the subscriber base has increased 142% from 300,000 to 1.2 million. Under the tariff rationalization policy and unbundling of services, PTCL has achieved a landmark of earning highest ever revenue of Rs. 62 billion in FY2001. Besides international gateway, VoIP and basic telephony, under the WTO accord of opening up telecommunications services in Pakistan, the service sectors opened are: audio-tex, non-voice communication network services, cable TV, mobile, card-pay-phones, global mobile personal communications systems (GMPCS), data communications network services (DCNS), electronic information services (EIS) internet, store forward fax service (SFFS), voice mail, burglar alarm, vehicle tracking system, trunk radio service and radio paging.

IT ASSESSMENT STATUS OF PAKISTAN

GoP has chalked a comprehensive package to apply IT in all sectors of economy and walks of life as IT has been identified as one of the four drivers of growth besides, agriculture, human resource, and political stability. In fact IT is one of the key determinants of competitiveness and growth of organized and unorganized sectors of the economy.

To make IT an effective force the main emphasis is on human resource and infrastructure development. For this purpose, the major projects rolled out include: establishing seven (7) public sector IT universities, establishing a virtual university, 50 major private sector IT initiatives including CISCO, Oracle, Microsoft trainings and certifications. In addition this include: implementation of e-commerce ordinance and IT policy to boost exports, grooming Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) and increasing software exports. E-government projects include universal internet access to 800 cities and towns in Pakistan, availability of 230 Mbits backbone where the cost of 2Mbits is now $ 3800, a gradual drop from $6000 and $60,000. Establishment of Pakistan Internet Exchange (PIE), SMW3 fibre backbone, DSL deployment, educational internet license, broad-band internet access, WLL, digital cross-connect, PRIs, business incubators, internet merchant accounts, IT TV channel, software technology parks at Peshwar, Karachi and Lahore, setting up 1000 nation-wide Kiosks-ATM based network for utility bills collection, $10 million Tele-housing project with Akhter Group, Rs.200 million investment by IBM in IT education, $ 150 million investment by Motorolla for expanding cellular network, $50 million venture capital fund, and above all Rs.1.5 billion telecommunication infrastructure expansion to be made by PTCL are stellar milestones.

OUTLOOK 2005: PTCL MULTIMEDIA SUPER HIGHWAY

The greatest potential of telecommunications is yet to be seen, as the convergence of multimedia and communication technologies have to arrive. With the arrival of new media and cable TV operators, cellular companies, data-communication companies, ISPs, WLL operators, pay card companies in the media and telecommunications industry the name of the game is BANDWIDTH as both media and telco companies indespensibly depend on broadcasting waves through a medium of communications whether it is air or fibre. In coming future Inter-active TV, VoIP, Video Mobile Messaging is quickly becoming a reality all depending on backbone infrastructure to be at place.

At such a rush hour, PTCL can play a leading role in bringing the IT vision into reality if it can strategically plan how to win its leading position by utilizing and maximizing its capabilities like high speed ATM and frame-relay. Developing business intelligence sytems to sense the arising demands of the market is sine qua non for PTCL to stay in business. Under the coming trade liberalization and WTO regime, without excellent market research and business development to realize the true potential of PTCL prowess would not be possible. Above all, the timely implementation of emerging de-facto communications standards like Voice of IP (VoIP), interactive TV, Universal Mobile Technology Standard (UMTS), 3G, MPLS is imperative for the rich cash flows in future as the interconnect revenues are fast drying up due to the revision in international accounting rates.

The opportunity for PTCL today is greater than it has been ever before, to step in, by fulfilling needs of an emerging consumer market for multimedia access, telephony services, internet access and cable TV all bundled in one fiber to the home (FTTH) or fiber to the curve (FTTC) solution meaning Single Point of Access at the user premises which is already revolutionizing the telecommunications industry today. Being pride owner of Pakistan's potential multimedia super highway PTCL can take Pakistan from an agrarian economy to the information society in a very short span of time say 2005!

The author is Assistant Professor (Management) NPGIT&I prof_haroon@npgiti.edu.pk