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KARACHI: Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) is the most ancient and giant telecom company in Pakistan that has enjoyed monopoly for decades before mobile phones got popular and became a household name with a significant reduction in the cost of handsets and wireless services.
PTCL being a once top traded company at the Pakistan Stock Exchange, has now been reduced to a mid-cap stock and has added value by offering new and advanced services to clients and bringing down the number of complaints by almost one-fourth in some areas.
“We have upgraded and transformed 30 exchanges in different parts of Pakistan, [therefore] customer complaints in areas covered by these upgraded exchanges have gone down by over 25%,” said Dr. Daniel Ritz, President and CEO of PTCL, in an email response to queries from media officials.
Since the company is massive, more than one-third of the complaints registered with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) are against PTCL.
PTA: the telecom industry’s regulator, received 34,723 complaints from consumers in financial year 2016-17 against mobile operators, PTCL, internet service providers and wireless local loop (WLL) operators. Of the total, 12,019 or 35% complaints were against PTCL, according to the PTA’s annual report.
In the three-year period ended June 30, 2016, the PTA received a total of 115,278 complaints, of which 44,115 or 38% were against PTCL. This shows the telecom giant has succeeded somewhat in reducing the number of complaints by improving its infrastructure.
Major challenges for the company include a massive but eroding infrastructure with a huge workforce that needs training to keep pace with evolving technologies. These challenges stand in the way of quality services, prompting complaints from the consumers.
Over the past three decades, most of the innovation and invention has taken place in the technology sector. New technologies are making the previous technologies futile and PTCL has faced some major consequences too.
Fixed-line telecom services could not compete with mobile broadband which spread at a rapid pace following the auction of 3G and 4G licenses in April 2014 in Pakistan, read the PTA report.
Since the launch of 3G services, the five cellular mobile operators (CMOs) in the country added millions of broadband subscribers, which took a leap from 3.8 million on June 30, 2014 to 52 million at the end of January 2018.
The new technology broadly sidelined fixed-line internet services, which once dominated the broadband market.
PTCL lost over half a million subscribers and its customer base shrank to 7.6% of total broadband users compared to 80% three years ago. PTCL, in which the government of Pakistan has more than 60% shareholding, was a favorite stock of investors in 2013 and recorded a substantial increase in its share price. However, since 2014, its share price has dropped by 45% and its earnings shrank by 88%.
“We are indeed a 70-year-old company, but we are young at heart,” said the PTCL CEO. “PTCL is hopeful about the fixed-line internet customer base; there is a lot more room for growth as today less than 10% of households in Pakistan has fixed-line internet connection – one of the lowest penetration rates in the world,” said Ritz, the 51-year-old Swiss national.
Despite all these challenges, PTCL is still the biggest player in the telecom industry due to its gigantic infrastructure and heavy cash flow.
It has more than 16,000 employees, 400 telephone exchanges, 700,000 distribution points and a network of fibre optic cables spread over 38,000 km across the country.
“PTCL has by far the largest fiber footprint amongst all operators in the country and is well positioned as the carrier of carriers,” said Ritz.
In the year ended December 2017, the company booked a consolidated profit of Rs4.34 billion, up 171% from Rs1.6 billion in the previous year.