BRINGING BALOCHISTAN IN DIGITAL ERA

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER
Oct 05 - 11, 2009

As compared to other provinces, Balochistan has not yet witnessed the phenomenal growth in the IT and Telecom- the two key sectors of present digital era. Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) still needs to take effective measures to promote and expand various telecom services including broadband services across the province. These services would be instrumental in enhancing the usage of information in different spheres of life and to uplift the socio-economic conditions of the people in the least-developed province. The province still lacks the IT infrastructure. That is why, the skilled IT professionals move towards other provinces preferably to Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

IT SECTOR

Computer literacy is the high demand of present digital age. Today, the IT professionals guide the young entrepreneurs in solving their day-to-day problems and inform them the latest trends in IT especially in e-commerce domain to answer all questions emerging due to dynamic change in IT and also suggest possible solutions to cope with emerging issues. The call centers serve for the processing of calls originating from different places. A modern call center provides multilateral services including customer support, inbound sales, order taking, credit verification and outbound telemarketing.

The province absolutely lacks trained human resources for establishing call centers. The provincial government should set up institutes for training of local youth in sales, customer services, regional demographics and in English language skills. The province lacks the training facilities related to setting up a call center. Unfortunately, for shortage of skilled people in the local market, the training and development costs will go up in Balochistan.

The IT departments in the university of Balochistan and Balochistan University of Information Technology and Management Sciences (BUITMS) should arrange training programs for call centers. The department of Information Technology, Electronic and Telecommunication Engineering of BUITMS is currently managing a provincial IT Forum aimed at apprising entrepreneurs of the changing business environment in the province.

The government should allocate handsome funds in the next fiscal year budget 2009-10 for IT education and developing IT infrastructure in Balochistan. It can arrange internship program in Karachi, Lahore and other cities for IT students of the province at least for a period of six months. The province needs human capital and trained IT professionals. At least 30 young professionals and teachers from the BUITMS were recently sent abroad under HEC program for training in IT and Ph.D programs. There is a dire need to impart training in data basis, networking, web designing, graphic designing and other areas of IT field. It will take time, at least 4 to 5 years for promotion of IT skills and growth of the sector in the province.

Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) should support the development of local IT industry in areas like human capital development, IT park construction and marketing. The PSEB should help the province in preparing a training module. The call center related skills training can provide the local youth lucrative jobs.

TELECOM SECTOR

Balochistan still lacks the sound telecommunication infrastructure and remains a potential telecom market after the deregulation of telecom sector. The province is yet to fully enjoy the fruits of deregulation, which has brought scores of new private entrants to provide service in Pakistan. The deregulation of telecom industry is fast gaining momentum with dozens of more communication companies and millions of customers entering both the fixed-line and mobile telephone markets. The mobile network covers a population of 2.7 million which is around 35 per cent of total population of Balochistan. The fixed line subscribers are substituting fixed line with mobile services in the province. In 2006, the fixed line subscribers in the province have dropped by 5 per cent.

Less affordability and non-availability of electricity are the main impediments for development of the sector in the province. Other obstacles are its geography and demography indicating a difficult terrain and scattered population. The least developed province is yet to enjoy and benefit from the advancement in computing and telecommunications.

Presently, the broadband services are available in the provincial capital Quetta, but there are complaints about the quality of services from the users. The growth of broadband depends on development of local contents and applications for users. If contents are prepared locally they can help in bringing awareness and education among the masses. The rates for broadband services should also be reduced for local users. Some operators have launched Wimax Broadband services, others like Telecard and Wi-tribe should also launch these services in Balochistan.

There are at least seven Internet Service Providers (ISPs), which are providing Internet/Broadband services in the province. There are more than 150 locations, which have internet access in the province. Launched in 2005, the DSL services are also being provided by many ISPs in the province.

Balochistan has a difficult terrain, scattered population and vast areas. Hence, expansion of Wireless Local Loop (WLL) network services is deemed cost effective in the province. WLL services have expanded in the province at a higher rate as compared to other services. Presently, out of all four WLL operators in the country, two have presence in Balochistan.

PTCL covers 39 cities in Balochistan with a population of more than 1.5 million. The PTCL has laid Optical Fibre from Quetta to Chaman. Similarly, it has also completed the project of laying Optical Fibre from Loralai to Dera Ghazi Khan. It is also committed to provision of 18,552 lines on copper and WLL services in far-flung areas of the province, placing of 2.5G system in Quetta, Optical Fibre Access Network at Quetta and Hub with 13,000 and 1000 lines respectively.

SUGGESTIONS

Balochistan has immense potential for the development of telecom and IT sectors and its geo-strategic location in the region is also an attraction for the foreign telecom and IT firms. The prevailing security situation in the province is enough to discourage the foreign firms to start their operations. The investments in both sectors can only be attracted if the province presents a stable political scene. The government should make efforts for bringing a political reconciliation in the province and improving the law and order situation, which is essential for luring the foreign investors.

There will be no use of producing an army of IT professionals without developing and strengthening IT industry in the province. Government should resolve the problems of IT firms, help them build their trade record and place them in the national and international IT market. Steps should also be taken for imparting IT education in Balochistan at school level by setting up computer laboratories. The federal government and the province should equally share the expenditure.

Present government should announce a special telecom policy for the rapid growth of this industry in the province. It should also take steps to improve the security environment in tribal areas of the province, so that private firms could expand their operations in these areas.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority should take steps to enhance tele-density in the province. Steps should be taken to establish community-based tele-centers across Balochistan, where telecom facilities will be shared.