ISLAMABAD: Listening to presentations and being part of panel discussions, while moderating ‘ITCN Asia 2016’ in Karachi last week, was pretty interesting.
The theme was “ICT4Pakistan” (ICT for Pakistan), which had four sessions – ICT4Health, ICT4Education, ICT4Governnance and ICT4Agriculture.
In each session, the presenters and panellists comprised of experts mainly belonging to the four fields of Health, Education, Agriculture and Governance, with links to ICT.
ICT is both a sector in itself, as well as an enabler for other sectors of the economy, and, following the trend, the focus of the event was less on pure ICT, and more on ICT-enablement of other sectors.
There were three takeaways from this gathering of experts:
Broadband is thriving
Despite the barrier of heavy taxes which makes the devices unaffordable for many, mobile broadband growth trajectory has not dipped. Going by news reports, imports of smartphones have been declining (over 12% decline in July-August, compared to the same period of last year). But apparently sufficient numbers of these phones are coming into the country through grey channels. This makes the devices not as expensive as the imposed taxes would make them. Good news is that share of 4G usage in terms of terra bytes of data is almost one-third of 3G.
The broadband growth could have been even higher, but the availability of mobile broadband service itself is not as widespread. Thousands of base stations (BTSs) still need to be upgraded, and many more 3G/4G BTSs have to be added, because to cover the same area more 3G/4G BTSs (which operate in 2100/1800 MHz bands) are needed. Yet another hindrance is that of choking in the backhaul wherever there are no optic fibre cables connecting BTSs.
It is advisable to release more spectrum in the 1,800 band – at a reasonably low price – so that more 4G broadband can easily be rolled out by the operators.
Lack of content is serious
Repeatedly, it comes out that useful local content on the net is lacking. There are countless potential users who have no wish to switch over to broadband (even when they can afford) because they do not find it of any use while many users miss the content in their own language, which is useful for them. Consequently, many use broadband for entertainment – nothing wrong provided it is not solely entertainment. That, surely, is wastage of this great tool for acquiring knowledge and skills.
Take the example of agriculture-related content. Vital information, specific to local needs of the farmers, timely and tailored-to-the-location, in their own language, supported by demo videos, delivered over broadband, could change the fate of Agriculture. This is already happening in developed economies.
New business models of providing useful information to farmers are giving birth to a new breed of ‘Agricultural Service Providers’. Such service providers own state-of-the-art devices which the farmers cannot afford on their own, like drones that collect data from the crops and transmit it to experts for processing and generating useful advice for the farmers.
ICT’s great capacity to store and distribute information quickly is of tremendous value in healthcare, as is already being done in Pakistan by some private hospitals.
Health records of all individuals who visit government/private hospitals could be digitally stored in the cloud, (fortunately we have our CNIC Nos. that can act as unique ‘Medical Record Indicators’). Record of any patient could then be pulled down from the cloud, over broadband, in any hospital, anywhere, anytime. This enormously improves the treatment given to patients, particularly in times of accidents and emergencies. This would also save time of the doctors, who are so over-burdened in our country.
High level attention is required
Since the sectors under discussion fall mainly in the provincial domain, the relevant provincial secretaries were also invited to the event. As it was in Karachi, the Sindh Provincial Secretaries had generously confirmed their acceptance. Sadly, only the Agriculture Secretary came – which shows how much some provincial governments care for ICT-enabled development opportunities.
It is well-known that there are large variations in the status of ICT adoption among the four provinces. Some are way ahead and surging, while others are behind and struggling. Therefore, yet again the need for a central supra body was underlined. Such bodies for rapid ICT adoption, headed by the highest, exist in several countries. They help to bring ministries/authorities of diverse sectors on board, who otherwise feel shy of asking ICT ministries, who are considered “juniors”!
Only the highest level attention could speed up adoption of ICT – the revolutionary tool that is already aiding a large part of world take rapid strides in all sectors of the economy.
Courtesy : Express Tribune