The Universal Service Fund (USF) is set to launch a fibre optic project in Gwadar to bring 4G-compatible high-speed internet and telecom services in the region and the project is expected to be completed by the middle of next year.
The USF has finalised the paperwork for several projects including 400 kilometre of fibre project in Gwadar and to bring 4G services in Loralai area of Balochistan, apart from upgrading data services to 4G in Vehari, Lodhran, Sialkot, Narowal, Nankana Sahib and Sheikhpura.
Sources in the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication said that all the above projects were in the process of finalisation and would start after getting approvals from the USF board.
“Tentative date to start these projects is set for the last week of June and will be completed in 12-18 months,” the officials said.
Apart from the residential and commercial districts, the USF has an extensive plan to cover the national road arteries.
The project to have IT and telecom at M-4 motorway is also likely to be launched next month.
The USF projects at M-3 and M-5 will be complete in the next four to six months, while the Makran coastal highway and NH 50-70 in Balochistan have been covered with the telecom service.
However, work at some parts of the NH 25-65 has been stalled due to local political issues and the authorities were not giving the No Objection Certificate (NOC) to install telecom towers.
It is 75% completed, while the rest of 25% is stuck due to NOC and political disputes.
USF was established 15 years ago but in the first 12 years the pace of implementation of projects was quite slow.
It has established systems to regularly monitor the progress of each project to ensure that they are completed at the set date.
“USF’s motorways and highways programme has achieved broadband coverage on more than 1,929-km of unserved road segments across the country,” an IT official said.
“We are committed to providing an uninterrupted mobile network on all major highways of the country and we are moving fast in this regard,” he said and expressed confidence that this target would be achieved with consistency.
Federal Minister for IT and Telecommunication Syed Amin Ul Haque chaired the meeting and said infrastructure development for uninterrupted high-speed mobile broadband services was essential at national highways.
He said that optical fibre cable networks at union council’s level was one of the prerequisites for the future digital needs of the country including introduction of 5G.
The minister said that USF was playing a key role to bring broadband services and optical fibre projects in the rural and remote areas across the country, which will help the fulfillment of ‘Digital Pakistan’ initiative.
The upcoming projects of the USF included powering of telecommunication sites through solar energy, to maintain sustainability and financial viability in remote areas where the supply of fuel for power generation was difficult.
Since 2018, the USF has launched 56 projects amounting to more than Rs52 billion, for providing optical fibre cable and broadband services across the country.
The project in Kohistan region had faced delays due to extreme weather conditions and difficult routes, while one project was facing delays in the former FATA areas.
These projects are only 5% of the total projects and 95% of the projects are progressing as per the schedule. USF is a subsidiary of the Ministry of IT and Telecommunication to expand the internet and telecom services to remote areas of the country, where the telecom companies and the internet service providers do not enter.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2022.