Digital Pakistan: Broadband Subscriptions Soar to 100 Million

Broadband subscriptions in Pakistan have soared from 2 million in 2012 to 100 million now, according to the country's telecommunications regulator. Ookla, recognized globally for its broadband speed testing, reports that Pakistan's average broadband download speed is 11.35 Mbps, while its upload speed stands at 10.7 Mbps. Thousands of kilometers of new fiber optic cable is being installed and mobile data usage in Pakistan has recently surged to 8,000 petabytes. Smartphone sales are also swelling. All signs are pointing to Digital Pakistan becoming reality in the near future. 

Broadband Subscriptions Growth in Pakistan. Source: PTA


Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA),  the nation's regulator, said in a statement that 87% of the population has access to the internet at the lowest rates. PTA claims the average download speed is 17.7 Mbps, and the upload speed is 11.3 Mbps, higher than the speeds measured by Ookla recently. Ookla found that mobile download speed in Pakistan is 40% faster than in India. It reported that download speed in Pakistan has grown 24% over last year, while the speed in India grew 12% in the same period.  

Broadband Data Usage in Pakistan. Source: PTA Data/Monis Rehman


Rising broadband subscriptions have triggered a significant increase in Internet data, particularly with the spike in Internet traffic caused by the COVID19 pandemic related lockdowns. Mobile data usage in Pakistan has recently soared to 8,000 petabytes. 

Both the private sector and the government are laying thousands of kilometers of new fiber optic cable to deal with growing mobile broadband subscriptions and expanding coverage. In addition, the growth in international data traffic is being met with new high-speed undersea cables. 

Pakistan and East Africa Connecting Europe (PEACE) is  96 Tbps (terabits per second), 15,000 km long, privately owned submarine cable that will originate in Karachi, Pakistan and run underwater all the way to Marseilles, France via multiple points in the continent of Africa.  It is being built as part of Digital Silk Road sponsored by China. Cybernet and Jazz are the local landing and global connectivity partners of PEACE Cable System in Pakistan. It will enable high-speed access to a variety of content, cloud computing, gaming and video streaming platforms.  


PEACE Undersea Cable Route. Source: Submarine Cable Networks



The laying of PEACE undersea cable in Pakistan's territorial waters will begin in March, following government approval this month for Cybernet, a local internet service provider, to construct an Arabian Sea landing station in Karachi, according to Nikkei Asia. The Mediterranean section of the cable is already being laid, and runs from Egypt to France. The 15,000 kilometer-long cable is expected to go into service later this year.   

A 820-kilometer long China-Pakistan fiber optic cable has already been laid between the city of Rawalpindi, Pakistan in the south and the Khunjerab Pass, China in the north  and operational since July, 2018. It is currently being extended to Karachi for connection to PEACE cable. 

When completed, PEACE cable will be Pakistan's 7th highest bandwidth, lowest latency undersea connection to the global Internet system. Currently, there are 6 international submarine cable systems connecting Pakistan, including SMW3, SMW4, SMW5, IMEWE, AAE-1 and TW1. PTCL is the landing party in Pakistan for SMW3, SMW4, AAE-1 and IMEWE cable systems, operates cable landing stations in Karachi. SMW3, SMW4 and IMEWE land at Hawksbay, while AAE-1 lands at Clifton. Transworld Associates Private Limited (Transworld, or TWA) privately owns the TW1 cable system and is a member of the SMW5 consortium. Both TW1 and SMW5 land at Hawksbay and terminate at Transworld's cable landing station in Karachi.  

Rapid growth in subscriptions has led to a huge increase in imports of smartphones in the country. The nation’s mobile phone imports have swelled by 51.5% to $1.3 billion in July 2020- February 2021, from $865m in the same period last year. Pakistan has begun local assembly of low-cost smartphones to meet soaring demand.  Since the introduction of the mobile phone manufacturing policy in March 2020, several smartphone assembly plants have been set up to produce 18 million units annually. 

Soaring broadband subscription, swelling data usage and huge surge in smartphone sales are all pointing to Digital Pakistan becoming a reality in the near future. 

Comments

Riaz Haq said…
Pakistan ready to adopt digital financial solutions on large scale, says Easypaisa CEO


https://nation.com.pk/06-Apr-2021/pakistan-ready-to-adopt-digital-financial-solutions-on-large-scale-says-easypaisa-ceo


“Pakistan is rapidly progressing when it comes to mobile broadband. Our country has enormous potential with respect to widening financial inclusion through digital solutions. Currently, 95 million people across the country use mobile broadband, a number which has grown by 50 million in the past 5 years. A majority of adults have broadband connections in Pakistan serving as a backbone to developing a digital payments ecosystem in the country.” said M. Mudassar Aqil, CEO Easypaisa/Telenor Microfinance Bank, while talking about Pakistan’s financial services landscape.

“96% individuals have a biometrically verifiable ID issued by the government, indicating that a robust regulatory framework is in place which is supported by credit bureaus. Despite these fundamental factors, 70% of Pakistanis don’t have access to financial services when the rails to address these challenges are in place,” he added. During COVID-19, digital payments witnessed a boom. According to the SBP’s quarterly report, 296.7 million e-banking transactions, valuing at PKR21.4 trillion, were carried out during Oct – Dec 2020, growing by 24% in volume and 22% in value compared to the same quarter last year.

“During COVID-19 industry numbers of digital transactions grew at an exponential rate. At Easypaisa, our annual throughput increased by 64% as compared to the previous year reaching PKR 1.5 trillion in 2020. Similarly, the number of active Easypaisa App users reached 3.44 million, registering a 54% increase in comparison to previous year.” he commented. Pakistan is predominantly a cash-based economy. However, things are changing as the use of digital payments is taking center-stage.

Mudassar opined: “The Pakistani economy is ready to adopt digital financial solutions on a large scale as opening a mobile wallet account on a smartphone or feature phone takes less than a minute. Roughly PKR 6 trillion or about one-third of the country’s deposits are in circulation. This is one of the highest percentages anywhere in the world and the only way to reduce this is for every adult in the country to have a mobile wallet. Furthermore, all retail outlets in Pakistan should be mandated by law to accept digital payments from mobile wallets. Tax incentives should also be introduced making digital payments cheaper than cash.”
Riaz Haq said…
Edkasa launches mobile app to revolutionise on-demand learning in Pakistan

https://nation.com.pk/10-Apr-2021/edkasa-launches-mobile-app-to-revolutionise-on-demand-learning


LAHORE-Edkasa, a fast-growing education technology startup in Pakistan, has launched its new exam prep mobile application, aiming to reach millions of secondary school students. Edkasa already has a user base of 55,000 students and more than 40 schools throughout Pakistan that currently use its solutions. This new exam prep app is an evolution of this work, and will leverage and grow its existing community. The company has already helped thousands of students, and recorded over 1.3 million hours of viewing time with over 250,000 queries answered by its teachers in 2020. “Education is the biggest bridge between the world that we have, and the world that we want,” said Annum Sadiq, Co-Founder of Edkasa along with Fahad Tanveer. “Edkasa is a dream coming to fruition, as we prepare to educate millions of Pakistani learners.”

The new mobile application, available to download for Android smartphone users (iOS will be available soon), features an initial quiz to gauge a student’s requirements, and then offers customised studying paths based on their needs such as a specific exam, subject, or exam board. Matric and Intermediate students from classes 9-12 can view over 4,500 video lectures on demand and take quizzes based on 15,000 past paper multiple choice questions (MCQs) to gauge their understanding of specific topics. Students can also see how they rank on the app’s leaderboard, compared to fellow Edkasa students from across their exam board, city, or country to get a sense of where they stand. Students sign up for the app for free, continue with a monthly subscription fee starting as low as Rs 899 per month, gaining access to Edkasa’s learning material in Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and English. Edkasa teachers are highly qualified, with experience educating thousands of students.

The Edkasa app has been designed with feedback from Edkasa’s pre-existing user base, and is also aimed at countering the effects of school closure and an uncertain learning environment due to Covid-19. The launch comes ahead of Board examinations in June, and gives young learners in Pakistan a timely chance to revise studying material.

Edkasa, co-founded in 2017 by LUMS alumnus and Fulbright Scholar Annum and LUMS and Harvard alumnus Fahad, leverages mobile broadband technology to offer online remedial classes for standardised exam preparation. Its Chief Technology Officer, Muneeb Ali, a GIKI gold medalist, is also the founder and CEO of OneByte, which works with pre-seed, early-stage, and growth-stage startups to help build their products.

The company raised a pre-seed round of USD320,000 led by i2i Ventures, with participation from Walled City Co., Zayn Capital, and strategic angels in Southeast Asia. The investment was made to build out the exam prep app and scale Edkasa’s e-learning impact with students across the country.
Riaz Haq said…
Fortune at the bottom of the digital pyramid


https://www.pk.undp.org/content/pakistan/en/home/blog/2021/fortune-at-the-bottom-of-the-digital-pyramid.html


The majority of Pakistan’s online users come from a lower socio-economic segment with low levels of literacy. They have come online recently and are navigating interactive devices like smartphones for the first time in their lives. Most of them only use apps like Whatsapp (100%) and Facebook (about 60%) and very few of them do online shopping.

Most blue-collar workers which include drivers, cooks, guards, office boys, electricians, gardeners and shopkeepers fall in this group. Only a quarter of them have access to consistent, stable internet connectivity. Still getting familiarized with the majority of features on their newly acquired smartphones, they do not occupy the same digital spaces, and are unable to navigate most of the sites and apps that most of the upper socio-economic segment frequently uses.

To install a new app on their smartphones, most users typically have to uninstall other apps they use, due to lack of space. Phones also crash routinely due to insufficient memory. There is also a major language and user interface barrier as most interfaces are in English. A recent survey conducted by Rozee in worker colonies revealed that their primary mode of online communication is through voice notes on Whatsapp, followed by messages written in Urdu. Some also use Facebook, Tiktok, Google, and Youtube. Many are neither aware of nor have ever used the web browser on their phones. Few local online services have been built understanding these constraints.

Meanwhile, the number of Pakistan’s online users has skyrocketed during the last five years. To be more precise, out of 85 million connected smartphone users in Pakistan today, a staggering 70 million came online just during the last five years. In the last year, e-commerce and mobile payments growth have swelled 300% to 400%, further propelled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Majority of the users have second-hand Chinese handsets and widely available 3G/4G networks.

Prevailing conventional wisdom amongst our local digital ecosystem is that this segment is not profitable and difficult to monetize. Thus, the focus has been on the Haves rather than the Have-nots. The former orders gourmet food on FoodPanda, buys eye shadow on Daraz, a DHA plot on Zameen, or a bank executive job on Rozee; while the latter have been largely excluded from participating in the massive opportunity created by this quickly evolving digi-sphere. While our e-commerce market has rapidly grown to over USD $4 billion annually, this growth has come almost entirely from the top 40% of the online users.

However, there are some very encouraging early signs of disruptive progress.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, the majority of daily wage workers were displaced as supply chains, businesses and affluent households closed their doors. The Rozee team spent considerable time in worker colonies digitally onboarding unemployed workers on to a donation platform named Project Pakistan. They engaged 60 volunteers from worker communities armed with smartphones. They recorded videos of workers, assessed household incomes, digitally verified ID cards, and did skills assessments. The software identified the neediest of them. In three months, donations were digitally sent to 10,000 households consisting of over 60,000 people. Thanks to technology, a core team of only five people from Rozee managed to make this happen.

Building on this experience, Rozee and UNDP partnered for the development of Rozgar.pk – a blue-collar employment platform that digitally onboards the often ignored blue-collar worker segment, and connected them with part-time or full-time opportunities near them.

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