Digital Pakistan is the flagship initiative of the government of Pakistan to expand the knowledge-based economy and spur socio-economic growth using digital technologies. The country has made considerable progress in its digital transformation journey, with the rapid expansion of mobile broadband networks over the last decade. Today, nearly 80% of the adult population lives in areas served by mobile broadband (3G or 4G) networks, compared to 15% in 2010. But more work must be done to ensure that connectivity reaches everyone, as only 22% of the population is subscribed to mobile internet.
To support this initiative, GSMA’s Head of APAC, Julian Gorman, and Head of Public Policy for APAC, Jeanette Whyte, visited Pakistan to meet with key government and industry representatives and highlight the importance of the financial sustainability of the telecom industry.
During bilateral meetings with all mobile network operators (MNOs) in Pakistan, the key priorities for 2023 were highlighted, along with the key policy reforms needed. This was followed by successful bilaterals with Amir Azeem Bajwa, Chairman of The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and Syed Amin Ul Haque, Minister of ICT. Matters around the financial sustainability of the telecoms industry, spectrum and gender inclusion were discussed. GSMA delegation also met with Fahd Hussain, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on Media and Communications. They assured their full commitment to continuing Pakistan’s digital transformation journey and supporting mobile industry players to roll out the required digital infrastructure and innovative services to bridge the digital divide and accelerate the adoption of digital solutions. The round of bilaterals concluded with a meeting with Ms Shaza Fatima, Special Assistant to PM on Youth Affairs, where it was agreed that her team would explore synergies and collaboration with GSMA to support youth initiatives in Pakistan
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Mobilink Microfinance Bank and GSMA to support digital inclusion for female entrepreneurs, SMEs, agri-tech and other verticals. The trip’s highlight was the “Smartphone 4 All” event organised by Kistpay in collaboration with the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT) and GSMA. During the session, the GSMA team released a new spotlight report,“Making Digital Pakistan a reality”, which was well received by ICT Minister Syed Amin UI Haque and PTA Chairman Amir Azeem Bajwa. Following the event, GSMA’s Julian Gorman and Jeanette Whyte were invited to speak on the National TV channel PTV World to discuss the spotlight report and GSMA insights on handset affordability and adoption.
Another milestone of the visit was the Mobile Connectivity Index (MCI) workshop held at PTA headquarters. The workshop, led by Kalvin Bahia, Senior Economist at GSMA Intelligence, delivered an engaging session with participants drawn from the government and industry. Through a self-assessment exercise, they identified policy priorities and areas of action towards improving connectivity in Pakistan using the insights from the MCI.
Throughout the week, it became apparent that the mobile industry plays a crucial role in driving digital transformation and is well-placed to support the realisation of Digital Pakistan. Throughout the trip, the GSMA delegation emphasised that government should promote supportive fiscal policies and remove sector-specific fee burdens to ensure the financial sustainability of the telecom sector. Policy and regulatory predictability are required to attract foreign direct investment in the ICT sector and reduce risk and uncertainty.