Can 3G and 4G do Wonders with Data?



Pakistan’s telecom industry can easily be regarded as one of the most competitive market in the region, where world’s top telecom operators with ultra deep pockets contend to get their share by leaving no stone un turned.


  • Data has never been marketed and sold like data, instead customers’ number has always remained the core focus for telecom operators.
  • Unfortunately — in the past — the monopoly behaviour by PTCL has always pushed other operators to indulge into this number game and in doing so they could never actually promote the data and make it a part of our daily lives.
  • This game is still on and it is still the number of customers that matter. What “Data” is being used for is not the concern of data sellers.
  • Once again PTCL is in competition with 3G operators and resultantly we are seeing similar ads from 3G operators in which they are using terms such as “Unlimited” and “MBs”.

Betting on 3G

We know that Pakistan had only 3.35 million broadband subscription before the auction of 3G and 4G licenses, while if we look at 3G uptake during first six month of service then there were some four million 3G users in first six months, which is 2.9% of  139 million total mobile phone users in this short span of time.

There’s catch in 3G number however, which is that the definition used for an active 3G user is: Any revenue generating activity on data services during last 90 days.

But if we just forget the definition used for active 3G users, and also consider the fact that 3G services are not available all over the Pakistan as of yet — one can easily judge the tune of the market and the adoption rates for 3G technologies.

Historically, if we look at the track record of this nation, then Pakistanis are usually very hungry for new technologies and their adoption rate is decidedly high for new tech or for anything that’s better than what they were using earlier. This has happened before (during 2G era), and from its looks one can be certain that total subscription count for 3G users can cross 20 million in first 30 months

Lets talk about the neighbouring countries, India, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

3G and 4G was launched in India in 2008 and 2012 respectively, while the total 3G customers are approx. 107 million (which is 12 % of the total 884 million mobile phone users in India) while only 225,000 are 4G users which is not a very healthy number.

Smart phone penetration in India is around 10 percent and youtube is not banned there. Operators in India are not using conventional techniques by just promoting MBs and speed instead they are very creatively communicating the utility of data to there consumers and how it syncs with there lifestyle.

To generate revenues they are selling USB Dongles, developed apps such as One Touch Internet by Airtel music services and TV services have also been developed to increase Data consumption.

On the other hand Afghanistan has 700,000 3G subscribers (in 30 months) which is 3.2% of the total 21.5m users with smart phone penetration of approx. 8%. And Bangladesh is standing at 4.8 million 3G users in two years, which is 4% of the total 118 million users.

Both Afghanistan and Bangladesh are promoting Mi-Fi routers to generate revenues as an ad-on.

While we lack at various fronts, such as dongle aren’t marketed as of yet, apps is an area where we are behind, but the overall 3G uptake is doing fine. Importantly, we could do a lot better.

Ingredients for Boosting 3G

As one would agree: 3G adoptions is dependent on variety of things, including

  • Consumer awareness
  • Devices,
  • Ecosystem
  • And of course the network coverage.

If we assume that coverage can be taken care of by telcos, the other two essential elements lie in the hands of handset industry (for devices) and the government and private sector (for building of the ecosystem).

On top of this, user awareness is another essential part where consumers are rightly educated about the benefits of next-gen technologies.

Telco’s started there awareness campaigns by promoting speed and MB’s, which was a norm in broadband industry as well where no one could explain how data is useful in our daily lives other then Facebook and twitter while youtube is still on a hold. What about the applications that can be useful for the consumer in daily routine to increase data usage?

Telecom operators either follow Steve Job’s strategy by giving consumer what he/she should need or by learning from the consumers’ insight and create what they want but nothing has been done so far except for trying to add the numbers instead of focusing on revenue generating ideas and customers.

Its time to Gamify and engage the customer by giving them product experience. Its time to create a world class customer education communiqué which is obviously not about models dancing on the TV screen with cell phones in there hands and talking about re-activation, speed and MB’s but what we need is informative tactical telling them how it (data) syncs in ones lifestyle.

An ongoing campaign that is not just about conventional mediums but bridging the On-ground connect by reaching out to customers where they are, be it malls, hotspots, education institutes or offices, engage them with product trial creatively and its benefits, make viral videos for new media.

While currently everyone is swimming in red ocean. Creating blue ocean and over ruling the competition takes guts and a thorough research.

Now if we just have a look at current market scenario, low-end 3G devices are readily available in the market. There are in fact half a dozen 3G smartphones that cost less than USD 100. This segment is only going to get rich with time, as more and more vendors are making their way to Pakistani market (reference:   OPPO Lenovo Haier that entered Pakistani market in last six months). Increase in smartphone penetration and operators bundling with smartphones can be a positive sign for 3G growth.

Similarly, the digital ecosystem has picked up the pace. Number of startups surfacing every other day and the magnitude of FDI we are getting for digital companies is a clear hint of the uptake in the digital assets of the country.

Lack of Government Support

Unfortunately, Government, other than engulfing millions of dollars (in license fee), has done nothing so far. They are in fact negatively impacting the sector that brings them the top dollar to run the national economy.

Taxes, tightening regulations, absence of cyber law, expired policies, right of ways for infrastructure rollout, and what not.

The time has come for the authorities concerned to get serious with the work they are doing.


If done rightly, next-gen technologies can turn out to be a life-savor for telecom operators. But for that, government will also have to play its role to provide a level-playing field to cellular operators to ensure that industry is on flourishing path in the long run.

Author is a telecom specialist with expertise in Marketing and Corporate Communications. He can be reached at @sohaib72 and Sohaib.sheikh at

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