IT minister believes Starlink, Web1 may enter Pakistan now


ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Federal Minister for IT and Telecommunication Dr Umar Saif hopes satellite communication entities like Starlink and Web1 may enter Pakistan after the approval of the National Space Policy, permitting private companies to use low-orbit satellites in the country, The News reported Saturday.

After the cabinet’s nod, international companies will now need a no-objection certificate from the defence ministry to launch satellite communication services in Pakistan. 

Umar Saif said the companies would be able to utilise low-orbit satellites for swift internet services, contingent upon contributing 6% to research and development (R&D).

He said the IT ministry also had paved the way for routing freelancers’ remittances through third parties with PayPal’s assistance.

“In a short timeframe, we have achieved various initiatives, including laying the groundwork for launching 5G services in Pakistan, expected to be completed in the next financial year. We have fulfilled our responsibilities to the best of our abilities and will step down after the upcoming general elections. The incoming government will need to continue our efforts to achieve a digital Pakistan,” said Saif, during a discussion with a select group of reporters at his office.

The minister addressed several issues, including the establishment of an auction supervisory committee for the launch of 5G technologies, revealing that 300 MHz spectrum had been reserved. A consultant will be hired to determine the actual potential for the upcoming spectrum auction.

He highlighted a shift in the dynamics, as Telenor Pakistan’s acquisition by the PTCL has introduced the possibility of intense competition among the existing players. The consultant will also recommend whether payments for the auction should be made in US dollars or rupees, along with a specified mode and timeframe.

The minister declined to provide an assessment of the benchmark for the upcoming auction price, stating that the consultant would establish the benchmark based on the current market environment. 

He mentioned that the ministry was prepared to launch several digital initiatives next week, including routing remittances through PayPal, offering smartphones to customers on easy installments, and conducting standardised quality tests for IT graduates to position Pakistan as a ‘TechDestination.’

Although, PayPal is not directly coming to Pakistan, an agreement has been reached to channel remittances from PayPal through a third party, with the formal launching ceremony scheduled for January 11.

Highlighting the government efforts to boost the IT and telecom sector exports, the minister stated that sector exports are currently $2.6 billion, but in reality, they reach around $5 billion. 

This, he added, is because a significant portion is parked outside the country to cover the salaries of international employees and monthly expenses for cloud hosting, marketing and sales on platforms like Google, Amazon, LinkedIn, etc.

“We collaborated with the SIFC and State Bank of Pakistan to make a significant policy intervention, allowing IT companies to retain 50% of their export revenue in dollars in an account in Pakistan, enabling them to cover international expenses without restrictions. IT companies are now repatriating dollars, resulting in a 13% increase in export revenue in one month,” said the minister. 

He mentioned the upcoming initiatives by telecom companies to provide the latest phone models in easy instalments, with Jazz planning to offer iPhones. 

In case of instalment failure, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) will use the Device Identification, Registration, and Blocking System (DIRBS) to block the handset. 

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