Pakistan to launch 5G by Dec 2022. IT minister says government aims to increase IT exports to $5b by 2023

Pakistan has targeted to commercially launch the most advance internet 5G by December 2022, which would be a big step towards realising Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision of digital Pakistan, Federal Minister for IT & Telecommunication Syed Aminul Haque said on Thursday.

The government has set the target of increasing IT exports to $5 billion by the time it completes its elected five-year tenure in 2023, as the country is progressing fast in the fields of information technology (IT), artificial intelligence (AI) and working to provide uninterrupted connectivity through the advanced internet nationwide, Haque said while speaking at Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX).

PSX signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) in the presence of the minister to bind themselves to play a pivotal role in ensuring sustainable growth of IT industry in the country.

“PSEB is aimed at getting some 40 technology companies listed (to make tech companies’ shares available for trade) at Pakistan Stock Exchange,” PSEB Managing Director Osman Nasir said.

“The listing would help the tech companies raise investment for their ongoing and future projects,” PSX CEO Farrukh H Khan said. “The stock market has set up Growth Enterprise Market (GEM) Board…to provide an ideal opportunity for small to medium-sized growth enterprises such as IT firms and tech start-ups to raise capital and expand their business horizon.”

Haque said that the PSX CEO has rightly pointed out there are people - especially senior citizens aged 50 to 60-year - who have significant amount of funds to be invested in lucrative projects in Pakistan. On the other hand, there are youngsters who lack the financing but have great minds and business ideas to execute. “We need to connect them (senior citizens and youngsters) to help economy perform and for the betterment of the nation,” he said.

He said that his ministry was in the contact with the stakeholders, including mobile phone service proving companies, to commercially introduce 5G internet by December 2022. “We will offer them (mobile companies) more spectrum in the bandwidth, including on 5G, at the best possible price in future,” he said.

The government is working to offer additional spectrum on 3G/4G to mobile companies these days. The committee set up for the purpose would submit its report in the fourth week of March in this regard. Besides, the government has already hired an international consultant for the purpose.

Moreover, Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikh is heading the committee tasked to resolve issues between the government and a couple of mobile phone companies over the renewal price for the existing 3G/4G spectrums. The committee has held two to three meetings of the stakeholders recently, he said.

He said that Covid-19 proved to be a blessing in disguise for the IT industry. “The country’s IT exports have increased by 40% to $958 million in the first six months (Jul-Dec 2020/during Covid-19 pandemic) of currency fiscal year 2021 compared to around $684 million in the same period of the last fiscal year,” he said.

He said the government is working to improve connectivity through mobile internet. It has improved in Sindh, yet remained poor in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Balochistan. “We have spent almost Rs29 million to improve the connectivity nationwide,” he said.

He noted the telecom and internet users are being increased by 1.4 million per month. “The improvement in connectivity would help e-commerce, agriculture and education sectors and almost entire economy at large,” he said. Nasir said they expect the IT industry would achieve exports worth $1.9-2 billion this year. “The export proceeds would be in addition to the $4-5 billion which many exporters do not bring-in in the country for different reasons,” he said while responding to a question.

PSX Chairman Sulaiman S Mehdi proposed the government to constitute a fund to support the IT industry, especially the start-ups, in the country. He assured IT companies to provide full assistance and support in raising capital through the stock market for the potential growth.

Khan added small to medium enterprises make up a big chunk of business enterprises in Pakistan. SMEs constitute nearly 90% of all enterprises in Pakistan. They contribute about 40% to the annual GDP and employ about 80% of the non-agricultural labour force. The growth enterprises play a major role in a country’s economy. They provide a large number of jobs and contribute significantly to the GDP of a country.