Pakistan set to launch 5G connectivity by 2022 after ‘loud, clear’ test call

Pakistan's Information Technology and Telecommunications Minister Syed Aminul Haque
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Updated 16 November 2020

Pakistan set to launch 5G connectivity by 2022 after ‘loud, clear’ test call

  • State-of-the-art technology will bring ‘great economic progress’ to Pakistan: Telecoms minister

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.

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UK COVID-19 study reveals ‘hidden’ lung damage

Updated 54 min 4 sec ago

UK COVID-19 study reveals ‘hidden’ lung damage

  • Professor: ‘I was expecting some form of lung damage, but not to the degree that we have seen’
  • New scanning technique detected damage that traditional methods did not

LONDON: COVID-19 could cause lung abnormalities still traceable in patients three months after infection, new research suggests.

Oxford University in the UK studied 10 patients using a scanning technique to detect changes left hidden during standard health scans.

The new method involves MRI scans that use xenon gas to generate a clear picture of lung damage.

Lung experts said the new testing technique, if successful in detecting lung damage, “would make a huge difference to COVID-19 patients.”

The xenon method involves patients inhaling the gas during an MRI scan. Prof. Fergus Gleeson, who leads the study, used the new method on 10 patients aged 19-69.

The results showed that eight patients suffered from shortness of breath and tiredness three months after COVID-19 infection, despite none of them receiving intensive care or ventilation, and conventional health scans finding no lung damage.

But the new scans revealed signs of lung damage in eight patients by exposing areas where air did not flow easily into the blood.

Gleeson is now looking to expand the study by trialing up to 100 people who were not admitted to hospital and did not suffer serious symptoms. The goal is to discover whether lung damage occurs, and if so, its extent and duration.

“I was expecting some form of lung damage, but not to the degree that we have seen,” Gleeson said.

If the trial reveals that lung damage occurs across a wide age group and those with minor symptoms, “it would move the goalposts,” he added.

The lung damage revealed by the new scans could be a factor behind “long COVID,” where people fall ill for months following infection, he said.

The xenon scanning technique was developed by researchers at the University of Sheffield in the UK, led by Prof. James Wild.

“In other fibrotic lung diseases we have shown the methods to be very sensitive to this impairment and we hope the work can help understand COVID-19 lung disease,” Wild said.

Dr. Shelley Hayles, who worked on the study, said: “Up to 10 percent of those who have had COVID-19 might have some form of lung damage which is leading to prolonged symptoms.

“When medical staff tell patients that they don’t know what’s wrong with them and they don’t know how to sort the symptoms out, it’s very stressful. With most patients, even if the news isn’t great, they want the diagnosis.”