Sunwalk Group is a Chinese telecom infrastructure company that is planning on investing $2 Billion in establishing the optical fiber network in Pakistan. The company would be taking responsibility for the deployment of an optical fiber network encompassing an area of 100,000km.
Federal Minister of Information Technology and Telecommunication Syed Amin-ul Haque held a meeting with a delegation led by the Chairman of Sunwalk Group, Hou Xingwang, on Tuesday.
“Sunwalk has obtained the license to be a telecom infrastructure provider (TIP) in Pakistan. The company will lay 100,000km of fiber cable in Pakistan with an investment of $2 billion,”
Sunwalk has already invested about $5 million in installing Optical Fiber cables (OFC) in Pakistan. In the first phase, 5,000km of OFC is being laid to connect different cities of the country.
Prior to this investment, the optical fiber infrastructure was pretty disappointing in Pakistan. In Pakistan, only 10% of all the towers are connected to optical fiber which is obviously extremely low. For a better understanding, in Thailand, it is about 90%, in Malaysia about 50%, in India about 30%, and in Bangladesh 27%.
Chairman Hou explained that the company is expecting long-term relations with Pakistan and provides services to various sectors. During the meeting, the Sunwalk delegation shared that there are difficulties in laying optical cables along railway lines, highways, and motorways.
Amin-ul Haque briefed the delegation that consultation with the Ministry of Railways and Highways Authority is ongoing regarding the right of way to laying OFC. He assured the delegation that all obstacles in this regard will be removed soon.
The meeting was attended by Member Telecom Muhammad Omar Malik, DG Wireless Jahanzeb Rahim while the Sunwalk delegation comprises; Lou Vice President of Sunwalk Group, Tony Li (Assistant to Chairman), Chen Dianbo (COO of Sunwalk Pakistan) and Afshaan Malik (CBO of Sunwalk Pakistan).
Although the percentage of towers connected to optical fiber is really low in Pakistan, almost every city is connected with optic fibers thanks to the efforts of PTA (obligating new/ renewal of fixed-line licensees to lay fiber cables) and USF (obligating subsidy winners to lay fibers). But fiber penetration is poor within smaller towns and relatively less affluent localities of larger cities.
In Islamabad, many streets have up to three optic fibers buried in parallel (where only one would more than suffice). In contrast, large Mohallahs even in the neighboring Rawalpindi have no optic fibers.
Consequently, the fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) in Pakistan is very low. Out of 119 million broadband subscriptions, only 2 million are fiber-connected. It reflects negatively on Pakistan’s ranking on various global indices, where Pakistan is lagging behind all the regional countries (except Afghanistan).
One of the reasons for low overall performance is also the unusually high telecom taxes and the process and cost of Right of Way (RoW). Telecom operators have been clamoring for the government to address these for years. Addressing these demands would undoubtedly speed up investments.
In Pakistan, there are 24 telecom infrastructure provider (TIP) licensees in Pakistan. But so far, they have not been much of a success. Unfortunately, many TIP licensees possess ISP licenses too. A company with both licenses will most likely discriminate against other ISPs. That is undesirable.
In many other countries, the incumbent operator, eg, BSNL in India, provides passive optic fiber cable infrastructure. But in Pakistan, our PTCL is “privatized” and acts like any private ISP. In this scenario, all other ISPs will have to seek access to passive fibers from their competitor – PTCL. Unworkable.
Unfortunately, this aspect was overlooked at the time of PTCL’s privatization. AT&T in the US, BT in Britain, DT in Germany, etc were all split into wholesale and retail entities before privatization.
Creating a new public sector company: A public sector company may be created solely to build and provide ISPs with open access to neutral passive fibers.