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May 17th is officially celebrated as World Telecom Day by International Telecommunication Union —  a United Nation Body — the defacto watchdog of all telecom businesses across the world. 

Called the “World Information Society Day”, it commemorates the founding of the International Telecommunication Union (then International Telegraph Union) on 17 May ,1865.

Telecom businesses across the world celebrate the day to mark the upbringing of telecom sector, the growth trends, ongoing challenges and the innovation needed to keep up with the expectations and demands of billions of people around the world.

Back in the days, in Pakistan, there used to seminars, events, print ads, several pages of supplements and a lot more to celebrate the day.

But it has changed now. This time around on May 17th, for instance, there’s no event, not a single ad in papers, no supplement no message from minister, CEOs or anyone from the entire industry. As if everyone just forgot about the World Telecom Day.

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While I am not saying that events or seminars were adding any value to the sector at the core, but it showed the buzz, the activity and involvement of telecom sector; which has vanished now.

May 17th is apparently just a usual day for telecom fraternity today and it is depressing at many levels.

ProPakistani has discussed this before, for n number of times, but we will say this again: Telecom companies are going through the most difficult times in history. And this is not true for local Pakistani companies only, telecom businesses across the world are on decline.

In 2017, telecom businesses in Pakistan are facing countless challenges. They are not only competing with each other, but with countless OTT services that are eating up their share rapidly.

In Pakistan, other than the dilemma of price wars with-in operators, 40 million users — that’s some 35% of entire userbase — is on 3G now and prefers to use Whatsapp instead of SMS/Voice calls.

So in essence, operators have reduced their ARPUs to one of the lowest levels in the world, and then on top of that, consumers are giving up calls and SMS — the core revenue streams of mobile phone companies.

Just to give you an idea, Pakistani operators are selling data — their next big revenue stream — below the production cost. That is, if it takes Rs. 1 to produce 1 MB of data (including all sorts of cost), they are selling it below Rs. 1, thanks to the price war.

In addition to this duo of challenges that telecom companies are facing, they still seem to be in denial that startups can not only compete with these multi billion giants but could actually beat them by completely changing the game.

Only thing left with telecom operators is the connectivity and if they don’t evolve, new age companies will come up with a solution that will deprive them of this USP (Unique Selling Point) as well. (Hint: heard of internet drones?)

From the looks, it is evident that number 3, 4 operator in Pakistan (and abroad) are going to get bankrupt, unless they evolve and become solution providers than the connectivity operators.

I am saying this because when users will start relying on OTT services, connectivity will become a commodity — just like electricity — and then operators with larger base only will make sense while it will become hard for smaller operators to survive.

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So essentially there are two ways for operators to survive: become so huge that OTT services don’t even think of touching you (instead they partner with you for providing the connectivity) or become a service yourself.

I have said in past that telecom businesses should get into new revenue streams, but then they will have to change their egoistic behaviors and should be more receptive to changes, ideas, risks and above all: the pervasive mindset.

This Telecom Day, it is immensely critical to be in a telecom company. If you are one, your decisions today are going to impact the future of telecom industry for a long time.