Call centres worst hit by blackout: Awais
By Imran Ayub
KARACHI: Telecom officials have shared the IT industry’s concern over the lingering Internet blackout in the country and have said that the problem may affect the thriving call centre business much more than any other part of the sector.
IT and Telecommunications Minister Awais Leghari told Daily Times on Thursday that the government was concerned about the incident, as it would send a “negative message” about Pakistan’s telecom facilities and IT infrastructure. “But I hope this incident will be the last of its kind and will never happen again. We are due to get a second undersea fibre link by October this year and are planning more links, which will decrease such risks to almost zero,” he added.
“But unfortunately this incident will send a wrong message to the international community, especially to those thinking of setting up call centres in Pakistan. This business has started taking off and the country has attracted much interest from western countries,” the minister said.
Pakistan’s Internet and other telecom links with the rest of the world were severed earlier this week by a fault in a key submarine cable that experts said could take two weeks to repair.
Millions of people were affected by the breakdown in the main fibre-optic link beneath the Arabian Sea, 35 kilometres south of Karachi. The Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited – the country’s Internet provider – that had earlier claimed it would fix the problem in no time, said on Wednesday that it might take three to four days to restore the Internet.
The minister said that other than PTCL, a UAE-based firm was also planning on laying an international undersea fibre cable link, which would support PTCL.
“Al Warid Telecom has plans of laying down an undersea fibre link from Pasni (Balochistan) to Fujerah (Dubai). Before this, we are expecting an early completion of a fibre link with India, which will provide extra support and cover to the telecom and IT backbone,” he added.
PTCL was allowed to establish a fibre optic link with Indian company VSNL and had started laying the cable up to the border with India. Outsourcing business in Pakistan through IT-enabled services crossed over the $10 million-mark earlier this year with a rapid growth of call centres. Operators were optimistic to touch the $20 million-mark by the end of the fiscal year.
About 25 call centres, mainly in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore, fear that the negative image the undersea cable fault would portray would not only cause short-term financial losses, but would also affect future marketing in the long term. Abdullah Butt, president of the Call Centre Operators Association of Pakistan, said, “Most of our members have been out of business for the past three days. The satellite backup provided by PTCL is not meeting the demand of all call centres in terms of quality and speed and we fear more losses in the days to come.”
He said the operations of call centres required minute-by-minute information to their clients mainly based in the US on the back of high speed bandwidth and modern telecom infrastructure.
Currently, Pakistan’s telecom system is connected with only a single undersea fibre link called SEAMEWE-3 (South East Asia, Middle East, Western Europe-3).
The recent incident has been the fourth of its kind in two years, as the telecom system had to go through the same problem twice in 2003 and once in April this year.