As per the data available with the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the imports of mobile phones increased by 58.03 percent during May 2021 in comparison to May 2020.

Although no exact figures are available on the number of 4G devices that were imported, the general trend showcases that consumers are shifting towards smartphones and letting go of old technologies like 2G/3G. Currently, the country has more than 73 million 4G users with data demand increasing tenfold, especially since the pandemic.

This data demand is set to increase more following the introduction of a comprehensive mobile manufacturing policy. As companies start manufacturing mobile devices including 4G smartphones within Pakistan, prices will drop significantly, meaning more people will be using smartphones.

For a country looking to improve on its digital indicators, including increasing access to high-speed internet, this is a worthy development. But the concerning bit is that spectrum, the infrastructure allowing us to connect with the world, is not enough to support this growing data demand. Pakistan is one of the lowest spectrum assigned countries in the region, with countries including Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Cambodia ahead of us.

Clearly, there is a significant gap in anticipating present and future connectivity needs, something that the local power sector is also akin too. For years, the country has failed to manage power supply and demand, and a lack of long-term planning for the telecom sector, in terms of available spectrum, is concerning.

The finalized draft policy for the NGMS spectrum auction states that the 27.8 megahertz (MHz) spectrum has been approved for the auction. Considering Pakistan has around 44MHz available for use, auctioning off a part of it and keeping the additional MHz idle is of no benefit to the end consumer.

As per the GSMA, efficient spectrum allocation is one in which the spectrum is distributed to all operators at a fair price. Releasing a limited spectrum without accounting for future data growth and overpricing the spectrum, might discourage participation from certain operators and hinder innovation and fair competition. If operators end up paying exorbitant spectrum fees, they will not be able to divert resources towards network expansion and upgradation.

For the vision of a Digital Pakistan to materialize, it is imperative that mobile operators are provided sufficient support in connecting the unconnected with fast, reliable internet. Efficient spectrum management is key in this regard.

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