Pakistan intends to begin local manufacturing of SIM cards and smart cards to protect the country from cyberattacks, create job opportunities, and save valuable foreign exchange. “Pakistan is planning to start local manufacturing of SIMs and smart cards to shield the country from the threat of cyber-attacks amid a brewing cyber war,” said an annual report of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority. According to official documents, local physical SIM manufacturers may set up eSIM management platforms and sell eSIM products to cellular mobile operators (CMOs) via “Platform as a Service.”
Digital transformation and the creation of an enabling ecosystem are two of the critical objectives of the government of Pakistan, and in the era of digital services, SIMs and smart cards assume pivotal importance. The local manufacturing of SIMs will massively benefit the economy, as millions of SIMs are currently imported.
According to the documents, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) fully supports the required roles of performing authorization, complying with regulations, and adopting SIM card manufacturing in the telecom sector. Local SIM and intelligent card manufacturing have already established themselves as a critical sector in many national economies, contributing significantly to long-term economic growth.
Indian hackers had also attacked the accounts of Pakistani officials. However, Pakistan countered the attacks successfully. After introducing the mobile manufacturing policy, the government is looking to begin manufacturing SIMs and smart cards. Under a plan, the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom would invite investors to manufacture these cards.
The IT ministry is now seeking approval from the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) to move forward on the proposed plan. In a summary sent to the economic decision-making body, the Ministry of Information Technology said that digital transformation and the creation of an enabling ecosystem was one of the key objectives of the government of Pakistan and in the era of digital services, SIMs and smart cards were of pivotal importance.
The ministry said that it was considered that local manufacturing of these chips and cards needed to be promoted for various reasons. The government has formed a committee for the manufacturing of SIMs and smart cards. To move forward, a cross-stakeholders’ committee was constituted on the order of the prime minister for making recommendations.
From a business standpoint, it will benefit the economy by creating job opportunities, generating tax revenue, and conserving valuable foreign exchange. Furthermore, it will provide another practical dimension for academia in terms of research and development.
With the advancement of SIM technology, manufacturers around the world have created new SIM variants such as embedded SIM (eSIM), soft SIM, and integrated SIM (iSIM), among others. All of these options are viable alternatives to a physical SIM card. As a result, local physical SIM manufacturers could set up eSIM management platforms and sell eSIM products to CMOS.
Local manufacturing of SIM cards and smart cards can help Pakistan protect itself from cyberattacks by allowing for better control over the supply chain and reducing the risk of vulnerabilities being introduced through imported products.
It can also create job opportunities by supporting the development of a domestic manufacturing industry, and it can help save valuable foreign exchange by reducing the need to import these products.
The committee held a series of meetings with the stakeholders concerned including the Engineering Development Board (EDB), cellular mobile operators (CMOS), law enforcement agencies, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). A detailed report was submitted by the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom to the Prime Minister’s Office.
In addition, a summary was also moved to the Prime Minister’s Office which included recommendations for a strategic way forward. Prime Minister Imran Khan directed that these recommendations may be presented to the ECC. Accordingly, the draft summary was circulated for the comments of stakeholders.
In response, comments were received from the Ministry of Commerce, Finance, Interior, Industries and Production, and telecom regulator. The FBR and SBP also sent their comments to back the policy. In their comments, the stakeholders supported the step taken by the Ministry of Information Technology to manufacture SIMs and smart cards in Pakistan.
IT Ministry Secretary Shoaib Ahmad Siddiqui told The Express Tribune that the committee had prepared recommendations for the local manufacturing of SIMs and smart cards. He said that the committee had recommended reducing taxes on the material to be used in the manufacturing of SIMs in Pakistan. He said that several investors were ready to start manufacturing SIMs in Pakistan, adding that it would ensure the country’s security along with creating job opportunities.
He also maintained that the step would result in savings of foreign exchange. As per industry experts, the local manufacturing of SIMs will benefit the economy as currently millions of SIMs are imported. “If we are confident that Pakistani manufacturers can ensure quality at reasonable prices, the framework for local manufacturing and its execution should be expedited. This will reduce reliance on foreign companies and also save foreign currency reserves besides supporting the government’s Digital Pakistan vision,” said an official.
The role of the said industry will not be restricted to the domestic engineering perspective or transfer of technology. Analyzed from a business perspective, it will boost the economy by creating employment opportunities, generating tax income, and saving precious Forex. Moreover, it will add another practical dimension for academia vis-a-vis research and development.