This article was originally published on Dawn.com in September 2016.
Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman on Tuesday said Pakistan would be the first country in South Asia to test 5th generation cellular services for fast connectivity.
Similar claims were made by Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms Ahsan Iqbal in September 2016, when he said that the government was planning to launch ‘5th Generation’ cellular services “soon” for faster connectivity.
Is it possible?
In short, no.
The claim came as a shock, since parts of the country do not have access even to 3G services.
Besides, 5G technology is not available anywhere in the world as yet. China, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom have all set targets of 2020 for the launch of 5G services ─ a deadline which several experts term “ambitious“.
Where does Pakistan stand?
Telecom officials admit that the quality of 3G and 4G services is very low.
“Customers are not satisfied with the quality of 3G and 4G services. There is a huge gap to be filled with regards to 3G and 4G connectivity services,” a well-placed official at a telecom company told Dawn.com.
A recent report published by OpenSignal, a wireless network mapping company, revealed that Pakistan’s average 3G speed is among the lowest in the world at just 3.33Mbps. In contrast, South Korea possesses the world’s highest average mobile internet speed at 41.34Mbps.
As far as the 4G service is concerned, Zong and Warid are the only two operators currently providing it in Pakistan.
Warid provides 4G in a limited number of cities which it considers “major revenue-generating cities”.
Zong claims to be a market leader for 4G services, but customers still face difficulties with connectivity and availability of signals.
Although a considerable chunk of the country, including Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir, remain deprived of 3G and 4G services, some operators facilitate customers through provision of 2.75G services in the region.
Preparing for 5G in Pakistan
IT Minister Anusha Rehman vowed in July 2016 that Pakistan would be among the early adopters of 5G technology. No concrete efforts have been made in this regard as yet.
When asked if the telecom sector or his company in particular had made any preparations to introduce 5G technology in Pakistan, Mobilink spokesman Omar Manzoor said 5G was a very new concept to the telecom sector, and that there was an appetite for new technology in the country.
He was of the view that measures in this regard would be taken if and when the “need arises”.
Meanwhile, a source in Warid said the company had no plans as yet to tap into 5G services and was currently concentrating on its merger with Mobilink.
Technology analyst Salim Karim was of the opinion that Zong is interested in 5G technology and its parent company in China has made some developments in this regard, but it is unclear what these developments may be.
Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Spokesperson Khurram Mehran told Dawn.com that concerned quarters were monitoring the situation closely as 5G technology has not yet been commercialised in the world.
He said the authority would ensure availability of required facilities for the service, such as allocations of frequency and a transparent auction.
Mehran added that Pakistan was late to introduce 3G and 4G services but hoped that the latest technology would be adopted as soon as it is launched.
What is 5G?
Although specialists are still undecided on what exactly 5G means, it is certain the technology will be a game-changer, enabling users to download large amounts of data within seconds.
5G speeds are expected to be one thousand times faster than current LTE data transfer speeds. China has even tested a prototype in this regard, with data transfer speeds of 3.5Gbps.
Furthermore, 5G services will be operating on a millimetre wave base.
Ministry issues clarification
The spokesperson of the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform claimed last year that Ahsan Iqbal had been quoted out of context regarding the launch of 5G technology.
“Ahsan Iqbal nowhere in his statement claimed that Pakistan was very soon switching to 5G,” said the spokesperson.
He added that Iqbal was referring to Pakistan lagging behind in information and communication technologies.
The ministry’s spokesperson elaborated that the government is trying its best to provide 3G and 4G technologies across the country.
“It is part of Vision 2025 to build modern information highways for a knowledge economy.”