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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Power outages pose risk of ‘connectivity blackouts’

ISLAMABAD: The telecom industry has warned the government of connectivity failures if prolonged power outages continue amid high fuel costs and stringent conditions on battery imports.

“Despite having backup power available in the form of generators and batteries, cellular operators are finding it almost impossible to cope with the quantum of these power outages that are beyond our dimensioned backup capacity,” leading cellular mobile operators (CMOS) Jazz, Telenor, PTCL and Ufone said in a letter to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).

The letter was written to draw the telecom regulator’s attention to “some critical economy-wide factors, which are directly impeding and are expected to further severely constrain the operators’ ability to meet the existing [quality of service] obligations … [key performance indicators] as well as our network rollout obligations under the new licence conditions”.

They also lamented that rapidly increasing fuel prices were placing extra constraints on the provision of generator backup for their base transceiver station (BTS) sites.

Telecom companies tell PTA they can’t run on backup options in face of costly fuel, strict conditions on battery imports

Besides, this extra fuel consumption for backup was going against the “government’s objective of rationalising fuel consumption in these testing times”, they said, adding that the situation had made it a “massive challenge” for the operators to maintain network availability.

The letter also stressed that the situation had worsened after the State Bank of Pakistan had imposed a 100 per cent cash margin restriction on the import of network/backup equipment, including batteries.

The situation had “severely dented” the CMOs’ ability to roll out more sites to meet the licensed quality of service requirements but also “drastically impedes addition of more backup capacity to counter these extended power outages”, the letter said.

The recent fiscal and political developments had further impacted the country’s “already deteriorating health of capital-intensive telecom sector”, the telecom companies noted and asked the PTA to help the industry keep providing essential telecom services to the masses.

The operators also informed the PTA that if the power outages and other issues were not addressed, they would be “constrained to notify force majeure situation under special circumstances”.

Dent on IT ambitions

Talking to Dawn, Jazz CEO Aamir Ibrahim said the backup systems used by telecom companies were not designed for prolonged power outages. “To ensure consistent improvement in service quality and expand broadband services, a policy and regulatory environment that enable mobile operators to remain financially healthy are critical,” he said.

A senior executive of a CMO told Dawn the high cost of diesel had put a financial burden on the industry as telecom towers and back-end equipment either used generators or backup batteries.

If the current situation persisted, there could be blackouts at certain towers, resulting in the disruption of telephony and data services in that area, the executive said: “And this can happen randomly for different companies at different places.”

Telenor Pakistan CEO Irfan Wahab Khan told Dawn that the greatest loss would be suffered by the people of Pakistan, who would be pushed into darkness at a time when the world was moving fast into the digital economy.

“Unless the government joins our collective efforts to ensure connectivity for every Pakistani, the industry and the people of Pakistan will remain at a disadvantage. Without connectivity, our IT ambitions will remain unachieved, slowing our progress to becoming a full-fledged digital economy,” he said.

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