Serving Pakistan better has been our key driving force and all our products
and services carry this very imprint, said Khurrum Ashfaque, CTO of Telenor Pakistan, who spoke to ZTE Technologies
about the business motivation, achievements and expectations of Telenor Pakistan. He also shared with us what makes the company one of the best places to work in Pakistan.
With a footprint spanning throughout the country, Telenor Pakistan is the second largest cellular and digital services provider in Pakistan. The company is renowned for its innovative moves like commercial deployment of Dynamic Spectrum Assignment and disruptive solutions like the financial service 'Easypaisa'.
How does it feel to be in the pivotal position in one of the industry leaders? What impact does it have on your personal as well as professional life?
The feeling is a mix of responsibility and fulfillment. Working with a tech leader in a developing market like Pakistan gives you the chance to turn challenges into opportunities. With Telenor Pakistan, it becomes all the more fulfilling as we remain driven by our purpose of connecting people to what matters most and our vision of empowering the people of Pakistan, which means that every service or product we offer has a direct impact on the country’s economy and society apart from anticipating and delivering on the needs of our consumers. I feel very proud of the fact that Telenor Pakistan's work is bringing a positive change in the country by reducing inequalities. This is something that keeps me motivated in my personal life as much as it does in the professional one.
When did Telenor Pakistan start its business and what was the primary motivation behind it?
We began operations in Pakistan in 2005 and recently completed 14 years of our commercial operations in Pakistan. The primary motivation behind everything we do is to empower the people of Pakistan through provision of affordable and integrated digital solutions. Since the beginning, we have been sensitive to everyday challenges that a common citizen is faced with and have successfully sought innovative solutions in communications technology to facilitate the public. Serving Pakistan better has been our key driving force and all our products and services carry this very imprint.
Digital and financial inclusion in order to reduce social disparity has been high on the Government’s agenda for a long time. We at Telenor Pakistan, being key proponents of digital transformation in the country, continue to support the national agenda using disruptive digital solutions catering to such important sectors as financial services, agriculture, and social inclusion. We see a mobile phone in every hand as an opportunity to deliver innovative solutions to a common Pakistani to improve lives and livelihoods.
Recently Telenor Pakistan shifted its HQ to this newly built state of the art facility, how does this impact the employees and what do they say about it?
Our aim for the new HQ was to make it a comfortable workplace that enables innovation and helps us serve people better. We strongly believe there's a powerful link between happy employees and happy customers, that is why we have made '345' a state-of-the-art facility where every employee feels at home and gives their best towards collective progress. Facilitating employee creativity was a key prerequisite for the design and combined with an enabling workplace culture, the new HQ is supporting us in reaching greater milestones. The building features a multitude of big and small meeting and conference rooms, silent and social zones, and latest available technology to get things going seamlessly.
This is in addition to the on-site facilities all our employees enjoy including cafeterias, fitness center, and a daycare center to name a few. The campus is very welcoming to the differently-abled employees too who can contribute their best without feeling disadvantaged at any step of their career progression. The building's architecture perfectly complements our employee-friendly HR practices that have inclusion, diversity, and innovation at their heart. Programs like Open Mind Pakistan and Naya Aghaz are ensuring true inclusion at the workplace, while initiatives like Startup Garage and Activate are enabling innovation from within the organization. All these steps are a testament to our long-term commitment in Pakistan which not only impacts our own employees but the whole nation at large.
It's pertinent to note here that ‘345’ recently won several international accolades for its architecture.
Telenor Pakistan has continuously been ranked as one of the best places to work in Pakistan which is very appreciable. Could you tell the main reasons behind it? How many employees does Telenor Pakistan have?
Telenor is an organization which is built around people and we consider our employees our biggest asset. Our comprehensive, employee-friendly HR policies have played a pivotal role in establishing us as a top employer. The equal opportunity that all our employees - men, women, and differently-abled included - enjoy at Telenor Pakistan is hard to match in the industry. Similarly, facilities and benefits like a flat six-month paid maternity leave, flexible working hours, ability to work from home, and on-site facilities like daycare center, fitness center etc. attract quality human resource from across Pakistan.
We currently have 1,600 direct employees; however Telenor Pakistan provides livelihood to over 200,000 people indirectly. Developing an enabling workplace culture is a continuous job and the coveted status didn't come overnight. Using internal employee surveys, industry trends, and global benchmarks, we are constantly working to make Telenor Pakistan a more dynamic, productive, and friendly place of work for people of all backgrounds.
The year 2018 has passed, is there anything you would like to express?
2018 was the year of continued commitment to serving our customers better. While expanding the reach and portfolio of our network and services, we made progress on our digital interventions for agriculture and social inclusion namely Khushaal Zamindar/Khushaal Aangan, and Digital Birth Registration. The DBR project was also nominated for the GSMA Global Mobile Awards (GLOMO) 2018 in the 'Outstanding Mobile Contribution to the UN SDGs' category.
Some other key achievements in 2018 included launch of state-of-the-art self-service booths. It was also the year when we launched Telenor Pakistan's Hybrid Cloud and evolved to Network Function Virtualization. We have modernized our transport network to 100G DWDM backbone and IP-MPLS metro aggregation. These developments are vital steps to cater to the rapidly growing cellular data in Pakistan, to support our transformation and 5G readiness. Data analytics driven personalized products from Telenor were an interesting highlight in Pakistan's telecom market.
Telenor Pakistan also has a mature software development team that adopted agile development, DevOps and API first approach to keep up with the pace of change & innovation in industry. We developed applications and complex business services for some of Telenor Pakistan's customers as well as other Telenor business units.
Telenor Pakistan is known well by its principles of empowering and connecting societies with innovative solutions like Easypaisa & Internet for All. Would you like to share your expectations for 2019?
Our vision of empowering a common Pakistani coupled with our passion for the country has manifested into ground-breaking solutions for financial, digital, and social inclusion of the marginalized Pakistani masses. By connecting the previously unconnected and bringing mobile-based solutions to everyday challenges, we have and will continue to elevate the standard of life for millions of Pakistanis.
Telenor Pakistan has been a technology leader in the country and would continue to strive for customer centric, zero-touch operations through extensive use of RPA, ML & AI along with actionable analytics.
Our expectations for 2019 are to innovate with a greater focus on reducing inequalities by leveraging the latest available technologies. In 2019 we foresee further increase in mobile and broadband uptake and advancements in mAgri, DBR, and similar initiatives. We also expect to play a bigger part in our customers' lives as their preferred digital lifestyle partners by offering more products and services to match their evolving connectivity needs. 2019 may also bring some progress in innovative solutions based on emerging technologies like IoT and AI.
In the coming years what do you classify as major growth areas for the Telecom Industry in Pakistan and what are the major challenges associated with them?
The digital transformation we are aiming for calls for reducing gaps that still exist in teledensity and NGMS penetration. With GSMA's estimates of nearly half of Pakistan's population still being unconnected, both basic telephony and mobile broadband penetration are the areas of focus without which our dream of a digital Pakistan and a knowledge economy will not materialize. At Telenor Pakistan, we are playing our part to expedite teledensity and digital penetration through better network coverage, superior service, and affordable hardware including handsets and internet devices.
Financial inclusion gaps in Pakistan have also been a major challenge which digital interventions like Pakistan’s first and foremost mobile banking service Easypaisa are working to reduce. Following the National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS), launched in 2015 to connect at least 50% adult population to banks, 23% of the adult population has been provided with access to formal financing services compared to 13% in 2014. Mobile financial services are and will continue to play a pivotal role in getting closer to the inclusion targets. Some other growth areas include IoT and emerging technologies.
One of the most exciting claims coming out of CES 2019 is that we're on the brink of the 4th industrial revolution. With 5G and IoT being the main backbones of cyber-physical systems, how promising do you think these two are and how soon can we see these making their way and contributing towards advancement in Pakistan's economy?
Talk of 5G has been circulating in the industry for a long time now but it may still be a while till the technology sees a full-scale global roll-out. For Pakistan to prepare for and get the most of 5G, IoT, and other futuristic technologies, it's imperative to strengthen the local telecom sector further through more forward-looking policies, spectrum roadmap, and conducive regulatory environment.
Telenor Pakistan has contributed majorly to developing and promoting the country's digital ecosystem including our recent launch of the country's first and only 4.5G service and numerous IoT initiatives including exhibitions and device roll-outs. As part of Telenor's global priorities we have recently started working on 5G readiness, the work we are doing for radio network modernization and Telenor Hybrid Cloud (THC ) are all part of this agenda. These developments, and the ones to come, will surely have a deep impact on the country's socioeconomic development as it is headed towards a knowledge economy with an aim to make ICT a top contributor to Pakistan's exports and job creation. Telecom-intensive sectors, such as financial services, education, health, retail trade, wholesale trade, and transport will see immediate boost with other sectors fast becoming telecom-intensive.