ISLAMABAD: Upon my return to Pakistan after a few weeks abroad, I am delighted to observe what an eventful period it has been for the information and communication technologies (ICTs).
Some very encouraging things have been happening one after the other, which are bringing Pakistan in the global limelight. In my opinion, two people deserve to be commended for this – the IT minister and the PTA chairman.
The minister even received international recognition through her inclusion in the International Telecom Union (ITU)’s broadband commission.
The brightest spotlight belongs to the two-day Asia Pacific Regulators Roundtable which took place in Islamabad. More than 45 participants from the regulatory and other ICT authorities of over 20 countries took part. These countries represent nearly 50% of the world’s population.
The significance of the event lies in the fact that it was after a long gap of around eight years that such a gathering of ICT luminaries took place in Pakistan. These dignitaries have been avoiding coming to Pakistan, not only due to security reasons, but also because for quite a few years nothing really significant happened in the sector.
The roundtable was inaugurated by no less a person than Houlin Zhao, Secretary General of ITU, the UN body responsible for ICTs in the member states.
He emphasised the incredible potential of ICTs to improve development outcomes in the developing world, in particular through small and medium-size entrepreneurs in the IT sector – something very valid in the Pakistani context.
The secretary general also met with Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who assured him of full cooperation for the expansion of IT services in Pakistan.
Local IT professionals are hoping this alone will result in some more good news for the sector.
Differences set aside
Regional political differences were put aside during the event and even the Telecom Regulator of India Chairman RS Sharma participated together with three of his senior advisers. His speech on the similarity of regulatory, legal and technological challenges and issues faced by the ICT sectors in the region, underlined the need for more regional cooperation and interaction.
In her address to the regional telecom regulators, IT Minister Anusha Rahman gave some upbeat pieces of news, saying Pakistan would soon come up with an effective OTT policy framework and would introduce 5G technology by 2020.
The latter news got a supporting shout from Zong which is reportedly asking for trial of 5G spectrum.
Right after the Asia-Pacific Regulators Roundtable, the three-day ITU-PTA International Training Programme commenced. In this programme, the PTA arranged training of experts from regional countries.
At the inauguration, the ITU secretary general shared that the ITU was looking to sponsor more professional training programmes in Pakistan.
The programme included a session on the ICTs for persons with disabilities, where such persons were actually invited to come on stage and participate so that IT professionals could better understand and try to meet their needs through IT applications. As the training was coming to an end, the ITU secretary general was performing the ground-breaking of the National Incubation Centre. It is funded by the National ICT R&D Fund, which has also risen from a long hibernation of sorts.
The incubation centre will be run by the largest mobile operator of the country, Mobilink, together with its service delivery partner Team Up, which has industry veterans like Zouhair Khaliq and Parvez Abbasi working for it. Further collaboration will be coming from VimpelCom’s ‘Make Your Mark’ programme and Lums Centre for Entrepreneurship.
The Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) has more good news to share. Not only IT exports have jumped two-fold in the last three years – from $1.4 billion to $2.8 billion – but also the number of companies registered with the PSEB has grown from around 300 to 1,100.
The IT minister claimed that the government is striving to touch the $6 billion IT export mark by 2020.
During this time period, the regulatory approvals for Mobilink-Warid merger also got out of the way.
According to a statement of the CEO of VimpelCom, the owner of Mobilink, the company now plans to invest $1 billion over the next five years which will also create 5,000 jobs in the country. As luck would have it, during the same time period, Telenor, the second largest mobile operator, finally got the 10 MHz spectrum in the 850 band, after winning the latest mobile broadband spectrum auction. There are so many relatively smaller developments that it is difficult to recount all of them. Personally for me, the best news was what the IT minister revealed on PTV.
She said that as per directive of the prime minister, the Universal Services Fund would only be used to provide telecom services in remote areas with transparency and the USF would be utilised for the purpose it was allocated, not a single penny would be used for any other purpose.
All of the above is music to the ears of ICT professionals and other well-wishers of Pakistan. Let us hope that the momentum is maintained.
The writer is former CEO of the Universal Services Fund and is providing ICT consultancy services in several countries of Africa and Asia