ISLAMABAD: Recent flooding, which began in August, has exposed the fragility of Pakistan’s telecommunications infrastructure and the weaknesses of the broader structural environment in which cellular networks operate, according to a report by Islamabad-based research firm Tabadlab.
The report, authored by Naeha Rashid, Maira Sheikh and Alina Khan, argues that without immediate intervention, the industry is prone to collapse.
“Such a collapse would not only destroy Pakistan’s broader digital transformation journey, but also the lives of Pakistan’s 195 million telecom customers and 123 million broadband customers.”
When 3,386 cellphone sites in flood-hit provinces went inactive, mobile connectivity and internet services were disrupted, and as a result, thousands of flood victims were unable to contact or reach people they knew or relief teams.
Responders report communication difficulties with affected departments due to connectivity issues.
To overcome short-term connectivity barriers, companies offered free on-net voice calling services, but these solutions are short-term patches to a larger set of problems.
The report has highlighted that Pakistan’s underlying infrastructure has been vulnerable, particularly given the realities of accelerating climate change and catastrophic events. Therefore, creating a resilient and robust telecoms sector that can handle such events has been critical to both immediate relief efforts and our long-term notion of digital viability.
Telecommunications forms the base layer of the entire digital ecosystem, and unless the existing set of problems are collectively addressed, Pakistan’s digital ecosystem will be in permanent jeopardy.
It has been suggested that Pakistan must have a connectivity-specific contingency plan.
Published in Dawn, October 9, 2022