High-speed broadband expansion led by PTCL has propelled Pakistan to become the fourth fastest growing broadband market in the world and the second fastest in Asia, according to a recent industry report. Serbia leads all countries surveyed with a 68% annual growth rate from Q1 2010 to Q1 2011. Thailand (67%), Belarus (50%), Pakistan (46%), and Jordan (44%) follow Serbia. India is in 14th place worldwide with a 35% annual growth rate.
Leading the charge is PTCL (Pakistan Telecommunications Ltd.), Pakistan's state-owned telecommunications company, which recently launched 100 Mbps fiber to the home broadband service using Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) technology. Earlier this year PTCL rolled out bonded VDSL2 technology to deliver 50 Mbps to its existing DSL customers, five times the top speed of the nation's highest level of service at the time, at a construction cost of just $200-300 per home passed.
Nearly 200,000 new subscribers signed up for broadband from the end of Feb to the end of May. At the end of May 2011, Pakistan had 1.4 million broadband subscribers, up from 1.2 million in February, according to figures from Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). The number of DSL subscribers rose to 654,000 compared with 595,038 in Feb, while the number of Wimax internet users stood at 397,155, up from 338,962 Wimax users in February. Some 294,161 people connected to the internet via EV-DO, up from 234,113 in Feb, and 42,490 people used HFC (Hybrid Fiber Coax, or cable) to access the internet, compared with 43,193 HFC users in February. Fiber is growing as well, and there were 6,222 FTTH users in March, up from 5,818 in Feb, and 1,873 broadband subscribers used other technologies.
In addition to GPON and VDSL2, PTCL offers DSL and EVO broadband services as well. PTCL's EVO-WiFi Cloud at 3G speeds (upto 3.1 Mbps) offers a mobile hotspot that intelligently converts your home/work/vehicle space into a personalized wifi zone anywhere in over 100 Pakistani cities and towns covered by EVO service. The EVO-WiFi cloud device costs Rs. 7000 upfront with Rs. 2000 a month for unlimited service.
PTCL has recently launched an Android based thin Apple iPAD2 like tablet computer with EVO 3G and WiFi connectivity built-in. 3G EVO Tab is a 7 inch touch screen tablet with built-in EVO service to offer wireless broadband internet on the go in more than 100 cities and towns across Pakistan. Powered by Google Android Froyo 2.2 Operating system, 3G EVO Tab offers support for both 3G and Wi-Fi for an un-interrupted on-the-go connectivity. With a 5 MegaPixel Camera, a variety of built-in applications, 3G EVO Tab lets users browse, snap, share, communicate, navigate, play games and do a lot more on-the go, thereby making it an ideal connectivity solution for users looking for high speed on-the-go 3G connectivity on an Android platform. PTCL 3G EVO Tab offers convenience and speed with three diverse economy packages to suit individual needs and pockets. Its 12-month bundle offer has been very successful with majority sales in this bracket.Customers can get EVO Tab for as low as Rs 7,999 plus 12-month unlimited EVO service, all at Rs 31,999. In addition to the 12-month contract, EVO Tab offers bundled packages based on 3 and 6 month contracts at Rs 27,999 and Rs 29,999, respectively with 3 and 6 month of unlimited EVO service.
Growing broadband and Internet access by itself is of no value. However, such capabilities can enable huge opportunities for education, communication, business and entertainment. Take distance learning as an example. The quickest and the most cost-effective way to broaden access to education at all levels is through online schools, colleges and universities. Sitting at home in Pakistan, self-motivated learners can watch classroom lectures at world's top universities including UC Berkeley, MIT and Stanford. More Pakistanis can pursue advanced degrees by enrolling and attending the country's Virtual University that offers instructions to thousands of enrolled students via its website, video streaming and Youtube and television channels.
There are many online learning channels, like the Khan Academy, which help advance learning at secondary and tertiary levels. For those interested in vocational training and specialized work-related skills, there are plenty of Youtube channels and videos which are becoming accessible with increasing bandwidth of connections available to people at their homes, schools and offices.
In summary, I believe that the growing bandwidth available for the Internet users in Pakistan, with all its great applications for learning, work and play, is good news for the future of Pakistan. It will open a whole new world of opportunities for the nation's youth and ultimately produce significant demographic dividend.