High costs, complex procedures hinder fixed broadband development

October 05, 2022

Aitizaz Hassan

Pakistan lacks a business model for inter-sectoral infrastructure sharing for deployment of fiber-optic cable, forcing each telecom company to build its own network and bear all the costs of getting approvals and construction, thus lowering the efficiency and increasing the costs of fiber-optic cable construction, reports WealthPK.

According to a report by the China Academy of Information Communication Technology (CAICT), currently, the high costs and complex approval procedures have affected the telcos’ will to roll out fiber-optic cable and therefore hindered the fixed broadband (FBB) development in Pakistan in the long run.

“This could be attractive to incumbent telcos that want to provide a more universal service. For alternative telcos, deploying Fiber to the Home (FTTH) based power networks may provide access to better products and more attractive pricing. It can also stimulate competition in a way that benefits the policymakers,” the report says.

The Pakistan government seeks to promote IT infrastructure sharing. As per Telecom Policy 2015, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) is to develop the necessary regulatory instrument to encourage, facilitate and standardize infrastructure sharing in consultation with the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT) and stakeholders.

To that effect, the PTA is developing infrastructure sharing guidelines based on the principles of neutrality, non-discrimination and equal access. The guidelines will provide a mechanism for licensees and other stakeholders to share their telecom and other infrastructure facilities that would include space, electrical power, air conditioning, security, cable ducts, space on antenna and towers, etc.

The report says the FTTH in Pakistan mainly covers densely populated areas such as Karachi and Lahore. Its construction pace is significantly slower than other benchmark countries. For example, China has been vigorously promoting the transformation to “all fiber-optic network” since 2013. In 2019, China built 4.34 million km of new fiber-optic cable, bringing the total length to 47.5 million km.

Currently, there is no guideline for the fiber pre-deployment in new buildings in Pakistan, while many countries have already issued such guidelines, including France, China, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, the UAE, etc. And a recent case was from the UK.

The guidelines say the total cost of fiber deployment was minimized. The developers could share the construction teams. Rollout time was saved significantly because permission was not mandatory when the homes were not handed over to the users. The guidelines say that the users would enjoy less lead time for service provisioning because the fiber was already there in their homes and it was easier for the users to choose service providers, by which the market competition was encouraged.

Economic benefits would also be significant, as mentioned in the guidelines, because the operators spend less time on fiber rollout and service commissioning, and possibly, at a higher take-up rate as well.

The capability of ICT infrastructure to promote digital transformation of MoITT has been significantly enhanced. The population coverage of mobile broadband reached 95% across the country, while 5G technology will cover 4% of the mobile users by 2025. The population coverage of FTTH reached 20%. Fixed broadband subscribers in urban and rural areas could access broadband services at a speed no less than 50Mbps and 30Mbps respectively.

Credit : Independent News Pakistan-WealthPk