KARACHI: Pakistan is set to launch 5G mobile phone connectivity in the country by December 2022 following a successful trial call between Islamabad and Beijing earlier this month.
Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunications Syed Aminul Haque on Sunday told Arab News that the test call on Nov. 4 had been “a wonderful experience. The voice was loud and clear, and the video (quality) was also wonderful.
“I think December 2022 is the ideal date (to launch the 5G service) as it would take one to two years to improve infrastructure and increase optic fiber penetration across the country,” he said.
Once implemented, it would place Pakistan among several emerging market countries – such as Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, India, and Sri Lanka – to launch the ultra-fast mobile internet service in the next two years.
“It means that when the modern state-of-the-art technology comes to Pakistan, the country will make great economic progress,” Haque added.
According to a June report by the GSM Association (GSMA), an industrial body representing mobile network operators from throughout the world, 5G services are forecast to grow from “zero connections in 2018 to 2.8 billion in 2025.”
Around $67 billion will be spent on mobile networks in South Asia between 2019 and 2025, with $3.5 billion in Pakistan alone, according to the GSMA report.
Haque said that since 5G connectivity works on fiber-optic networks, the “government was working on this basic requirement” to facilitate the process.
“We are in touch with relevant stakeholders to improve and modernize the infrastructure. We will launch 5G in 2022 and prepare for its (spectrum) auctions,” he said.
The minister took part in the trial call – which used 5G NSA (non-standalone access) technology – between China Mobile Communications Corp., Beijing, and Zong in Islamabad.
5G NSA typically relies on 4G network facilities to provide more speed and higher data bandwidth, while a 5G-enabled smartphone can connect to either a 5G or 4G service, depending on the network conditions.
The NSA setup allows operators to leverage their existing network investments in communications and mobile core, instead of deploying a new core for 5G.
In a statement following the trial run, chairman and CEO of Zong, Wang Hua, said: “5G is close to being deployed on a large scale globally, and its commercialization is steadily advancing. Our 5G test call takes Pakistan one step closer to the 5G era where possibilities are endless for the users.”
There are 169 million mobile phone users in the country with 85 million subscribed to 3G/4G services, according to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.
The leading players include Jazz, backed by Netherlands-based Veon Ltd; Telenor Pakistan, supported by Norway’s state-controlled Telenor; Zong, owned by China Mobile; and Ufone, which is controlled by state-owned Pakistan Telecommunication Co. Ltd.
The GSMA estimates that by 2023, the economic contribution of the mobile industry in Pakistan will reach $24 billion, contributing 6.6 percent to total gross domestic product.
Meanwhile, mobile phone operators say that the 5G service would “revolutionize” Pakistan’s socio-economic landscape once it has launched in the country.
Maheen Akhtar, head of public relations at Zong, told Arab News: “4G changes life and 5G changes society. It will stimulate social-economic growth, promote smart connectivity and cloud-network synergy, and support the networked, digital, and intelligent transformation of traditional industries.
“It will also create new opportunities for social development and promote the open sharing and overall utilization of resources, rational allocation, and efficient collaboration,” she said.
Haque said that with “4G penetrating at a rate of 2 million users per month,” it was expected to take the lead in Pakistan by 2022, reaching 129 million connections by 2025.
While the launch of 5G connectivity could spell greater success for Pakistan’s telecoms sector, it could also become a cost concern for several in the country which has the highest tax payments and fees for mobile consumers and operators among developing nations in Asia.
Consumers pay around six kinds of levies while operators pay 11, including a 30 percent corporate income tax. A tax directory issued by the Federal Board of Revenue for the tax year 2017 listed Telenor and Jazz among the country’s top corporate taxpayers.
Haque, however, pointed out that “taxes would be cut through policy measures” in the next couple of weeks.
“Definitely I think the taxes should be minimum,” he said, adding that the ministry, in consultation with all stakeholders, had “made a policy that has been passed by the ECC (economic coordinator committee) and after that, it will go to the Cabinet.
“You will see in the next few weeks a clear taxation policy will come out through which the taxes are being reduced,” he said.