With the current growing pace of telecommunication, the telecom sector of our country has witnessed a spectacular growth in the recent past. This advancement and growth in the sector is also having positive impact on the underdeveloped economy and most backward society of Balochistan, which despite least developed province of the country, enjoying satisfactory growth level of telecom consumers and the quality of telecom services provided to them are admirable. The province still has more potential to gain further from this growth for its people as well as for the development of telecom infrastructure for the economy of the province and the country.
To meet the challenges of 21st century’s in the fields of information technology (IT) and telecommunication, the province will take decades to come on par with rest of the country’s developed regions but the existing development in this sector and the positive planning by the authorities surely help province overcome the stumbling block.
There is a bright future for the telecom related companies in the province as the fast developing Gwadar port under the cooperation of China will soon offer openings of business environment as Port will link Pakistan through this province to many countries of the region and likewise people to people contact will be boost up.
Balochistan is the country’s largest province with respect to area. It is the telecom services which have connected the people living in far off places in the province. The people now off and on talk to their friends through mobile telephones and remain aware of the welfare of their friends and relatives living in far off areas. The telecom penetration has somewhat changed the lifestyle of the people in the province. The growth of telecom sector created lot of jobs for local people. Many people are currently associated with the business of mobile telephony. There are many mobile telephone markets, which have been set up in every district and main city of Balochistan. The people frequently visit the markets for purchase, sale and repair of their cell phones.
Balochistan has immense potential for the development of telecom sector and its geo-strategic location in the region is also an attraction for the foreign telecom companies to invest in but less affordability and non-availability of electricity are the main impediments for development of this sector. Other obstacles are its geography and demography indicating a difficult terrain and scattered population.
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 sector is currently contributing 2 percent to GDP of the country directly and indirect contribution in other sectors of the economy takes this share to about 5 percent.
Balochistan is yet to fully enjoy the fruits of deregulation, which has brought scores of new private entrants to provide service in the country. The province still lacks the sound telecommunication infrastructure and remains a potential telecom market after the deregulation of telecom industry.
The province is still far behind, as compared to the rest of the country, which has witnessed a faster growth in tele-density during last three years. Though the sector is growing well in the provincial capital Quetta with new mobile connections every month, yet its penetration among the lowest strata of society, especially in rural Balochistan, is much less than the Quetta city.
Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) covers 39 cities in Balochistan. The PTCL has laid Optical Fibre from Quetta to Chaman. Similarly, it has also completed the project of lying of 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.
Over viewing current pace of telecommunication growth, the total revenue of telecom sector will reach Rs800 billion in next 5 years and may touch $4 billion mark by 2020 in the country whereas total number mobile phone subscribers in Balochistan increased in the last eight years from 12,539 in 2002 to 2.8 million in 2010, showing an immense growth rate which in 2003 had reached the highest level of 600.8 per cent, the statistics showed. These statistics of recent telecom growth in Balochistan are evident of the satisfaction level of telecom consumers joining the ardent bandwagon.
The former government of President Pervez Musharraf had taken certain initiatives to enhance the telecom access as well as tele-density in the province. For instance, it had reduced the annual regulatory fee of Wireless Local Loop (WLL) licensees operating in the province from 0.5 percent to 0.1 percent for three years initially and 0.5 percent to 0.25 percent in subsequent two years. Annual Spectrum Fee for WLL was also reduced to 10 percent of the actual fee applicable under the license. During the year 2006, the tele-density has increased in Balochistan from 5.6 percent to 10.47 percent, showing a growth of almost 87 percent.
The government needs to play a role of facilitator in growth of cellular telephony in Balochistan. It should facilitate more operators to start with their operations and extend incentives to the telecom industry in the province.
What is needed on the part of government is the development of reliable and sound telecommunications infrastructure in the province. It must take steps to lay fibre optic in all the districts, so that the mobile telephone firms could complete their coverage plans in far-flung areas and the people of rural Balochistan could also enjoy the services and franchise being provided by these firms in Quetta or other cities of Pakistan.
Taking advantage of its geo-strategic position, Balochistan can be developed as a hub of activity for international IT and telecom companies. There is a need to prepare a well thought telecom policy, after intensive discussions and debates involving all stakeholders. The mobile telephony market in the province should be characterized by a tremendous consumer demand, high levels of competition and a government that would be ready to welcome inward investment.
The government should set an annual target for the mobile penetration in province and efforts should be directed to achieve that target by the end of the fiscal year.
Today, law and order has become a major problem in the province. It provides a risky environment to implement any business plan or economic activity. The incidents of bomb blasts, attacks on public installations and target killings have become a routine. The prevailing security situation in the province is discouraging the foreign firms to start their operations.
The government should also take steps to improve the security environment in the province, so that private firms could expand their operations across the province.
The level of development in telecommunication is generally measured through tele-density; hence the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) 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 instead of having dedicated facilities.
A telecom forum should be arranged as a calendar activity by the PTA to provide a platform for promoting interaction among telecom consumers, private sector and telecom regulator for telecom development and for devising a strategic approach for development of telecom services in the province.