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Pakistan — A highly competitive telecom market

Published on 30th Nov, Edition 48, 2015

 

Smartphones trade reached peak and set to grow further

Pakistan with a market of about 200 million people continues to allure foreign firms to invest in the country’s telecom market, which has the footmarks of strategic investors such as Orascom, Etisalat, Telenor, Abu Dhabi Group’s Warid Telecom and Canada’s Nortel Networks and China’s telecom giants — ZTE Corporation and China Mobile.

Pakistan has the highest mobile penetration rate in the South Asian region. There is a tough competition among five cellular mobile companies operating in the country. These operators include Mobilink, Ufone, Warid, Telenor and Zong. The mobile phone operators compete by offering users attractive packages and drastic reduction in call rates. The people take advantage of this competition among multiple mobile operators.

Telecom deregulation brought an end to more than five-decade-old monopoly of the PTCL. The main challenge for the government was to preserve the PTCL in wake of opening the telecommunications market.

Improving infrastructure

It is also a fact that the foreign investment in the telecom sector is presently on decline due to higher ratio of taxes and reluctance of major players to move with expansion plans in the country’s rural areas. The government needs to create a technology-driven, consumer-oriented and business-friendly environment with fair competition, affordable tariffs, high quality of services and extended land coverage.

The telecom industry added almost 10 million new cellular connections in the fiscal year 2013. The steady growth came on the back of the country’s growing tele-density. Telecom is one of the highest tax-paying sectors. The sector, on average, has contributed Rs119 billion a year to the national exchequer between FY09 and FY13.

Pakistan is rapidly evolving as one of the telecom sector’s key investment prospects. The telecom sector has witnessed a significant year-to-year growth in the country. About 90 percent of Pakistanis live within areas that have cell phone coverage and more than half of the total population has access to a cell phone. The country’s telecom infrastructure is improving dramatically with foreign and domestic investments into fixed-line and mobile networks; fiber systems are being constructed throughout the country to aid in network growth.

Since 2003, the deregulation policy attracted significant foreign investment in the telecom sector. Under the deregulation policy, the foreign companies were encouraged to invest in the telecommunications market. Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), the telecom regulator awarded over 84 licenses to more than some 35 companies for fixed line local loop (FLL) and licensed fifteen others for WLL operations in different regions while 12 licenses were issued for LDI (long distance and international) service.

Scores of new private entrants geared up to provide service making the country one of the fastest-growing cellular markets. Just after five years of deregulation, the country emerged as the world’s third fastest growing telecom market, as the foreign and domestic firms continued to invest in the sector.

Telecom sector remained major contributor for bringing FDI into Pakistan in the past two years. In the last fiscal year, telecom sector invested $736.7 million, however, $330 million were withdrawn from the country by foreign telecom operators. This resulted into a net FDI of $406.4 million during the period. The investment in telecom sector had come mainly due to proceeds of 3G and 4G auction. The country received total FDI of $1.36 billion during the first 11 months of 2013-14, slightly up from $1.32 billion it attracted during same duration a year ago. Out of this $1.36 billion, telecom sector contributed towards the net FDI with $406.4 million during the period.

 

Upward smartphone market

The global telecom market has become more competitive among smartphone brands. Presently, Apple and Samsung, the two global leaders are losing share to manufacturers out of China and elsewhere. Samsung and Apple continue to be in a position of strength despite the presence of brands like Huawei, Lenovo and LG in the market.

With 3G/4G auction last year, the smartphone market is growing fast in Pakistan. There is a stiff competition in the market due to the presence of both local and international brands offering a variety of smartphones. This has created new ways of growth for the smartphone manufacturers and distributors. Just after 7 months since launch of 3G/4G service the mobile broadband subscriptions for 3G stood at around 10 million. The spectrum auction for next generation mobile services gave people access to mobile broadband services and it also encouraged investment in mobile networks in Pakistan.

The people are switching from feature phones to smart phones due to various reasons including development of low-end smartphones, dual SIM feature, larger screens and high camera resolution. Pakistani youth are embracing connected devices. They want to stay connected all the time and hence they use apps like Facebook, Twitter, Viber and WhatsApp. The young population keen to play online games watching videos or downloading files.

Chinese brands have also penetrated the Pakistani market with their low-end smartphones at affordable prices. Telecom operators are fully collaborating with smartphone manufacturers to promote its use in the country. The availability of 3G/4G coverage in more and more cities is expected to boost growth of smartphone market in the country.

Competitive market

The country has become a hub of activity for international and local telecom companies and unprecedented amount of foreign investment flowed into the sector due to the well thought out telecom policy, which was prepared after intensive discussions and debates involving all stakeholders. As the market grows, issues such as quality of service and the provision of value-added services are bound to define the nature of competition. Last year, the granting of 3G licenses and the first moves on 4G services was certain to see the mobile broadband segment move into major expansion mode.

Presently, there is competition in every telecom service segment in Pakistan, including fixed telephony, mobile cellular, payphones, internet and other value-added services.

Some analysts, however, argue that the country with high operating costs is discouraging the operators in an environment where profit margins have been narrowing due to stiff competition. Moreover, increased taxes and import duties on equipment purchase are the hurdles which would ultimately discourage are evaporating the prospective and the existing investors in the country’s telecom industry.

The competition among smartphone manufacturers has reached its peak as many local and international brands have entered the market, offering wide variety of feature phones and smartphones. From 23 percent growth in January last year, smartphone penetration continued to grow and its growth reached 31 percent by January 2015.

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