"Pakistan has an emerging mobile industry: there are approximately 90 million unique subscribers in the country, accounting for 47% of the population," according to a report published by GSMA Intelligence. "However, the enablers of mobile internet connectivity: infrastructure, affordability, consumer readiness and content, all rank low in Pakistan relative to its neighbors. These enablers are critical to creating the right conditions of supply and demand for mobile internet connectivity to flourish. Pakistan therefore has one of the lowest penetration rates in South Asia." This report is part of GSMA Intelligence's country overview series, in which it examines how Pakistan's "mobile industry is acting as a catalyst for the development of a digital society."
The report also explores how "mobile is supporting the objectives of Pakistan's Vision 2025 strategy, which aims to transition the country into a globally competitive knowledge-based economy by the middle of the next decade, with a high quality of life for all its citizens." Furthermore, it focuses on "how the mobile industry, government and other sectors of the economy must work together – with a particular focus on tax and regulatory reform – to drive digital development in Pakistan and unlock the huge growth potential and social benefits that come with a more advanced digital society."
Importantly, the report notes that Pakistan's mobile sector is in a unique position to support the country's digital development for three key reasons:
- Mobile can connect more people than any other technology, particularly in underserved rural areas;
- Mobile can provide secure access to a variety of digital services such as health and education; and
- Mobile can provide a platform to provide financial inclusion, engaging many people in the economy for the first time.
Smartphone adoption has been low in Pakistan with just 17 percent of total connections. The report explains that the low smartphone penetration rate correlates to the late deployment of mobile broadband networks as well as high handset costs. "However, following the rapid rollout of 3G and 4G networks since the spectrum auction in 2014, mobile broadband services are becoming more widely available and, in parallel, smartphones are becoming increasingly affordable."
As smartphone adoption and mobile broadband usage rise in the coming years, Pakistanis, particularly the increasingly tech-savvy youth segment, will use value-added mobile services or applications. Much should be done to support the emergence of the local app economy that will develop localized content and services for domestic consumers. Support should come from Pakistan's local and national government in providing grants or low-interest loans to entrepreneurs. Domestic and international investors should also consider supporting innovative mobile technology companies. Through its Vision 2025 strategy, Pakistan could be an integral component in South Asia's mobile ecosystem.
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