People usually welcome the weekend with open arms and when you have the Game of Thrones frenzy, you welcome it even more warmly. Others grab their controllers ready to blast some heads in Counter Strike: GO and some just want to complete their assignments and what not.
But then you have a country wide internet outage to greet you on Saturday morning. You wake up and find your family babbling about the internet, you shrug it off saying the ISP is probably going mad again and it’ll be resolved in a few hours but fate had another thing in mind.
The internet infrastructure in Pakistan is handled by Pakistan Telecommunications Company Limited which distributes the bandwidth from Karachi to rest of the country. Other providers have some alternative routes but they mostly rely on PTCL for the data. There are four PTCL cables whereas private companies have two which is enough to handle the entire country’s usage.
However, due to two cuts at the same time on the India-Middle East-Western Europe (I-ME-WE) cable, the internet speed across the entire country was strangled.
So here we have a case where total reliance on one provider can have bad results. Looking at some hard figures, there are total 44,608,065 broadband subscribers of which 42,084,032 are using MBB whereas 1,527,306 are using DSL. It may seem that the ones who rely on DSL are a minority but you have to keep in mind PTCL is the major distributor in the country and it alone handles 2,545,689 local line subscribers.
And then you have Ufone whose major backbone is again PTCL.
While Zong, Telenor and Jazz devices to some extent or the other remained unaffected, this situation begs to question why we don’t alternative routes if a situation like this emerges. It is the need of competition in the market and should serve as an eye opener to the regulator, in this case PTA, to incubate rivals in the market.
This is necessary because all major businesses and start-ups interact with their customers online and a 38-hour outage can significantly dip revenues. The fault is not of PTCL then again because the cable was cut off at Jeddah. Nor is it of anyone at that side. Accidents like this can happen. But everyone should have a backup system.
I mean if we can afford to have backup generators powering our houses so why can’t the government think about the businesses which are operating in Pakistan and have a solution which will rival PTCL. There has been a significant rise in the use of mobile broadband services and then again, those rely on this one distributor.
Zong is the only one who seems eager to look for an alternative. Rumors are that they are going to lay down cables directly from China and become distributors too. When that happens, you can expect prices of mobile internet to fall dramatically and the monopoly of PTCL and the gang to fall.
This step is important because already the telecom market is suffering from falling revenues and couple that with outages like this, it has a very bad impact on investors looking to start their companies here.
Till then, however, we can only pray that our fragile cables remain intact so that startups aren’t affected and we don’t have to face another blackout. SEAMEWE4 and TW1 are still being repaired but they shouldn’t affect internet usage in the country for the time being.
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