The South Asian Telecommunication Regulators’ Council (SATRC) was established in 1997 at the initiative of the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT) and the International Telecom Union (ITU) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. This council serves as a platform for South Asian countries to discuss and coordinate their telecommunications and ICT policies and regulations, with a focus on areas of common interest. Consisting of the highest representatives of ICT regulatory bodies in the region, SATRC plays a vital role in shaping the telecommunications landscape in South Asia.
Currently, SATRC consists of nine Member States: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The 22nd The 2021 SATRC meeting approved Action Plan Phase VIII for the duration of the year 2022-2023 and continued two working groups: Policy, Regulation & Services (WG PRS) and Spectrum (WG SPEC). WG PRS is chaired by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). It addresses the issues related to policy, regulation and services in the region.
This year’s SATRC Workshop on Policies, Regulations and Services was hosted by APT and hosted by PTA from May 8-10, 2023 in Islamabad, Pakistan. The aim of the workshop was to facilitate the sharing of insights, experiences and best practices and engage in a productive dialogue to identify challenges, opportunities and possible ways forward regarding the work items adopted under the agenda of SATRC Phase VIII. The workshop consisted of 10 sessions over three days, each of which focused on key contemporary topics and trends in technology, ICT and telecommunications.
The workshop brought together nine telecom regulators from South Asian countries. In total, the workshop featured more than 30 ICT experts from over 15 countries as speakers, covering 36 presentations/lectures grouped into sessions moderated by 09 seasoned leaders from the ICT sector. The workshop was attended by a diverse group of attendees, including policy makers, national regulators, telecom industry representatives, satellite network professionals, equipment suppliers, leading IT and Internet companies, academia, prominent ICT consultants and industry associations from the telecom and internet sector. Furthermore, due to the hybrid nature of the workshop, in addition to the 100+ physical participants, 80+ participants virtually participated in the online coverage of the entire event and interacted with the panel of experts through their questions and comments.
Some of the main points and conclusions of the workshop were as follows: 1) In the 5G related sessions, the importance of fiber backbone connectivity for the success of 5G was highlighted. Further discovery and adoption of 5G Use Cases, alongside traditional mobile broadband (MBB), across all industry verticals and the use of technology’s low latency and massive IOT features will enable confident investments, shorter ROI and faster adoption.
Therefore, supporting policies that enable and promote 5G should be put in place. 2) OTT services and application experts have described the challenges, rapid updates, and relatively shorter life cycles for most applications, including social media, video streaming platforms, user content platforms, e-commerce, and voice/video telephony. Some discussion points included: localization of OTT communication platforms, licensing/registration of OTT platforms, competitive aspects and data protection and privacy. 3) Telecom Active Infrastructure Sharing presentations generally agreed on the benefits and role it can play in accelerating broadband expansion and adoption of new radio access technologies (e.g. 5G NR). It is an established tool for reducing deployment and operational costs in mobile and fixed broadband networks, enabling faster deployment of broadband networks.
NGSO Satellite Constellations is a new and emerging technology that brings space internet to anywhere on the planet using Low Earth Orbit (LEO) / Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellite constellations. Several countries highlighted the regulatory challenges in introducing the licensing framework for these players. Some key areas of focus are: coexistence of NGSO satellite constellation with operational GSO (Geo Stationary Orbit) satellites (frequency coordination), space security and sustainability and impact on terrestrial broadband services and nationwide connectivity.
The workshop also included a well-moderated session on emerging technologies where experts highlighted the evolution of Radio LAN (RLAN) technology i.e. Wi-Fi 6E and how it helps to improve user experience, especially indoors with the rise of applications such as online gaming, AR/VR (Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality), local/home media server for video streaming and cloud-based services. In addition, ethical challenges of deepfakes & AI and blockchain technology were also discussed. The need for new and dynamic governance frameworks, including policies and regulations, to ensure inclusiveness and equitable benefits was highlighted. The last session was about the new context of regulation: sustainability and cooperation regulation in the South Asia region.
This was critical in navigating the rapidly evolving landscape of the telecom industry. The problem of electronic waste (e-waste) was described by experts from academia, its situation and impact in Pakistan and emphasis was placed on the need for a collaborative framework and policies to address and manage it. ICT-related e-waste comprises approximately 30% of the total e-waste imported and locally discarded hardware. As part of the PTA’s national cooperation initiative with other regulators in Pakistan, the Pakistan Energy Regulator (NEPRA) highlighted the role of ICT and cybersecurity under the topic of “power with security”. The public was informed about the Generation 5 (G5) program of the International Telecom Union (ITU) and the initiatives undertaken and completed. PTA is currently ranked as “Advanced” G5 Regulator and the “Road to G5 Regulator” program is in progress to achieve the “Leading” G5 Regulator Rank.
The SATRC PRS workshop was a resounding success and was praised by the Secretary General of Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT), Masanori Kondo, and all the physical and online participants. The dedication, expertise and enthusiasm of moderators, speakers and organizers were essential in creating an engaging and informative environment for all participants.
Finally, the SATRC Workshop on Policy, Regulations & Services was a platform for meaningful discussion and networking between various stakeholders. This collaborative event has paved the way for future partnerships and collaboration, which will ultimately contribute to the growth and development of the telecommunications and ICT sector in South Asia.
This article was written in collaboration with Ch. Mudassar Naveed, DG S&D, Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA).
PTA will hire consultants for taxation in the telecom sector