The high price of 4G-enabled smartphones is a major obstacle when it comes to accessing fast mobile internet and the government should look to subsidise these devices, urged Telenor Pakistan’s CEO, Irfan Wahab Khan.
Khan wants this to be done via the Universal Services Fund (USF) established some years ago towards which operators contributed 1.5 per cent of their revenue. The fund is worth around PKR100 billion ($950 million).
The government “can provide subsidised handsets like Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad [former prime minister] did to digitalise Malaysia,” a move Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also decided to make, Khan explained while speaking at the 17th ITCN Asia Conference, The Express Tribune reported.
If this is done, “internet penetration may reach 50 per cent of the population in the next two years. We are aiming to provide internet to 80 per cent of the population in the long run,” he added.
He said the fund, set up to help people improve their standard of living by providing them with access to fast internet, should also be used “for spreading and expanding telecom services including broadband for sustainable economic development, especially in remote and rural areas”.
Khan revealed that only around 20 per cent of the population was using mobile internet in the country.
At the same event, Jazz chief commercial officer Asif Aziz claimed that 4G coverage would be provided to 70 per cent of the population by 2020.
According to GSMA Intelligence, Jazz is the market leader in the country, with 37 per cent market share in Q2 2017, followed by Telenor (29 per cent).
Meanwhile Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s chairman, Syed Ismail Shah, said high tax rates on mobile services was a major barrier in internet access.
This is despite the fact that in May, Pakistan’s government announced some relief to the country’s heavily taxed mobile industry and consumers, with plans to reduce tariffs and duties on cellular services as well as mobile phones.
At the time, it was reported that custom duties on midrange smartphones would be cut from PKR1,000 ($9.45) to PKR650 but the duty on feature phones, previously PKR300, would rise to PKR650 as low-end and mid-range handsets would fall under the same category. The duty on high-end smartphones was to remain at PKR1,500.