Pakistan Archives — Page 3 of 12


Last year, I wrote about how the ubiquity of mobiles had helped a Bangladeshi doctor improve vaccination rates and win a Gates Foundation Prize. Here is another story about how the ubiquity of mobiles is helping improve government service delivery in Lahore, Pakistan. Even among the poorest fifth of households, 80% now use phones, so the technology can reach almost everyone. Illiteracy is a problem, but the chief minister’s call alerts a recipient to get help, if needed, with reading the text message when it arrives. It contains a specific question: did the police respond, as required, within 15 minutes of your emergency call?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has asked US carriers not to pay more than US$0.02 per minute to their Pakistani counterparts. This decree has been slapped after Pakistan has raised its international termination rate to $0.88 per minute, which the FCC calls anti-competitive. Pakistan’s 14 Long Distance and International (LDI) operators have formed a single international gateway called International Clearing House (ICH) and raised international termination prices in October 2012.
There is so much wrong with the IDI. It gives a higher ICT development rank to Cuba (106) and Zimbabwe (115) well ahead of India (119). I ridiculed the predecessor of the IDI in the past, but they keep churning it out unfazed and people keep paying attention, which then causes me to pay attention too. There was even a fuss in the Bangladesh media about how that esteemed country managed to get itself excluded from IDI coverage in 2012. Few months back I promised to analyze the S Asian IDI rankings in more detail, so here goes.

What to do about unregistered SIMs?

Posted on January 7, 2013  /  7 Comments

We have consistently argued that human beings must be associated with, and be accountable for, SIMs. The imperatives of the Budget Telecom Network Model cause companies (or more, the thousands of resellers who actually interact with customers) to give away SIMs without too many controls. Therefore, one must be judicious in enforcing the rules. We have been pointing to Pakistan as a model. Kenya, it appears, is exemplary of what not to do.
The paper was presented at the ITS India conference early this year. Somehow, we neglected to do a post about it. But, better late than never. Here it is. A subsequent revision of the ILDTS in late 2009 failed to address the concerns raised in this paper.
The termination of voice calls is a form of trade in services which is in many countries, including Pakistan, governed by the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The buyer of the service is the company abroad that wishes to terminate voice calls in Pakistan. The seller is the international long distance operator in Pakistan who receives the calls and terminated them on various Pakistan telephone numbers. Under GATS, the sellers in Pakistan are free to enter into any kind of commercial arrangement with foreign operators. What cannot be done is for the government to get involved.
Ministers making statements outside their areas of competence without consulting appropriate authorities is no way to govern. But that apparently is what the Pakistan Interior Minister has done by announcing the end of prepaid mobile in his country, according to Dawn: In a meeting on Friday the operators took strong exception to Rehman Malik’s statement and declared it uncalled for. “The statement has created panic in the industry and it appears that it might have been given purposely to target the telecom industry,” an official of a leading operator told this correspondent. He said in the meeting the operators had also decided to see the PTA chairman in this regard.
I have heard many absurd proposals related to the mobile industry, but this about takes the cake. Pakistan’s government is considering a radical plan which could dramatically alter the mobile phone industry in the country – as it mulls proposals to ban Prepaid SIM cards from sale. The Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that the government is considering a phased ban on all prepaid SIM cards in an effort to clamp down on terrorism in the country. However, with something in the region of 97% of the entire mobile subscriber base on PrePay tariffs, the impact on the industry would be huge. In addition to the costs of upgrading billing systems to cope with the surge in contract customers, and having facilities in retail stores to cope with the migration – the networks would also face a hole in their finances as payments switch from in advance, to monthly in arrears.
On July 4th, we were pleased to be able to share some of our research and explore areas of common interest with colleagues at LUMS, thanks to the kind invitation of Vice Chancellor Adil Najam. The slides we used to initiate the discussion are here. But they do not fairly depict the content of the conversation. Here is how it was reported on the LUMS website. Two representatives of LIRNEasia, a think tank that researches information and communications technology (ICT) across Asia, spoke at the LUMS Faculty Lounge on July 4, 2012 for an event organised by the Internet and Society Initiative.
One of the things that LIRNEasia tries to do in the region is to maintain good working relationships where possible with high-quality universities in the region. The Lahore University of Management Science (LUMS) has been on our radar from the start (with one of its faculty Dr Joseph Wilson working with us as a Research Fellow from the start). However, the return to Pakistan of Professor Adil Najam to assume duties as the Vice Chancellor of LUMS resulted in the interest moving up a level. Therefore we took the opportunity afforded by our agricultural applications event in Islamabad to arrange a visit. It is our hope that this will result in at the minimum a greater involvement by LUMS in CPRsouth and hopefully some joint proposal writing to support research.
Pakistan was early in trying to deal with this problem. And now the US is getting in on the act. Over the last year, roughly one out of three robberies nationwide have involved the theft of a cellphone, according to an F.C.C.

Pakistan 3G auction postponed

Posted on March 9, 2012  /  2 Comments

When the Indian 2G controversy blew up, I told several people who asked me about it was that there was no longer any point in debating auctions, but that we should put our energies into designing the kinds of auctions appropriate for the desired purpose. Most people (with the honorable exceptions of some of my friends and a recent commenter on this blog) accept that auctions are clean and that other methods are susceptible to manipulation. For good governance reasons alone I support auctions. That said, conducting an auction for valuable frequencies or for the right to operate a telecom business in conditions of restricted entry (and potential high profits and profile) is no simple matter. Auction design is an esoteric art.
We heard, back in 2005, that the Pakistan Telecom Authority and the Nigerian Communication Commission had calculated how much direct and indirect employment had been created by the telecom industries. Further inquiries revealed that the methods used were suspect and that the studies would not float under rigorous review. The difficulties are exemplified by the prepaid card value chain, where a whole series of resellers are involved in selling value and almost none are engaged solely with mobile. Now the NYT reports an attempt by Apple to quantify its job creation within the US. Apple has made its first attempt to quantify how many American jobs can be credited to the sale of its iPads and other products, a group that includes the Apple engineers who design the devices and the drivers who deliver them — even the people who build the trucks that get them there.
Pervez Ifthikar is a passionate commentator on telecom issues in Pakistan. A knowledgeable commentator and as the founding CEO of the universal service fund (one of the best in the world in his time), one who has to be taken seriously. Irrespective of the on-going, completely unnecessary, “controversy” surrounding auction of 3G in Pakistan, allotting 3G frequencies to telecom operators is extremely urgent and essential for Pakistan. We have already been left behind by others who used to be our followers in 2G. Mobile broadband – or 3G – should have been introduced here already four years ago.

Pakistan: End of MNP?

Posted on December 20, 2011  /  4 Comments

Has Pakistan made mobile number portability a terrorist act? The Minister directed Chairman PTA to revisit the whole system and ensure that all those illegal SIMS which are being used on stolen identity shall be blocked. The meeting decided that in view of the grave complaints, Mobile Number Portability (MNP) by the service providers is banned in future and anybody found violating should be booked under Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 as it is against the national security. Anybody misusing, sending threatening emails or tampering with email address, mobile phone via SMS, MMS etc shall be dealt with under ATA and other relevant sections of law. News report.
The ITU’s ICT Development Index has been released. The performance of most South Asian countries has increased since 2008, but not enough. The rest of Asia shows a marked contrast. Vietnam advanced 10 places in the rankings and Indonesia six. Korea retained its first place.