Pakistan is a vibrant, rich society full of potential and the means to realize it. It is much more than what the headlines in the Western media often convey. Despite its challenges, and all investments are challenging, it is a haven for foreign investment. The success of our company, Telenor Pakistan, testifies to this reality.
Telenor is Norwegian and operates across Europe and Asia as one of the world’s leading telecom and digital service providers. And Telenor Pakistan is very much a Pakistani success story. In March, we will mark a decade since our launch in the market here. When we started, we were the sixth entrant in the telecom sector. Today, with 36 million GSM customers alone, we now vie for leadership in a highly competitive sector.
We are bullish about Pakistan and our commitment to it is profound. We are in the process of building our new head office here with an investment of $70 million. We have, so far, invested $2.2 billion in Pakistan, and we expect our investment in the coming years to be of the same order of magnitude. We have just invested in a new 3G license and are deploying 3G sites around the country in both urban and rural areas every month. The spectrum auction conducted this year was executed with the highest level of professionalism and transparency, conditions that allowed participants to make bids with the greatest confidence in the process. Pakistan’s progressive approach to telecom is publicly recognized: on Oct. 27, Pakistan was elected to the ITU Council, the telecom industry’s global governing body.
The country has a deep pool of talent in all disciplines. The universities deliver great people to our doorstep year after year. Of the 2,800 or so direct employees of Telenor Pakistan, 2,798 are Pakistani nationals. We export more of our talent to the Telenor Group than any other business unit in our worldwide family of companies. This place is a goldmine of winners with an overwhelming desire for personal achievement and, in our company, a desire to build an empowered Pakistan.
Pakistan’s telecom sector is taking the lead in ensuring financial inclusion, an essential driver of economic growth and international competiveness, can be attained. We are contributing to the formalization of the economy through EasyPaisa, an award-winning suite of services in partnership with Tameer Microfinance Bank Limited. We transit close to Rs. 500 billion every year through EasyPaisa, which has a customer base of over 6 million. EasyPaisa is growing every day, thanks in no small part to the State Bank of Pakistan, a visionary financial services regulator and growth catalyst.
The data business is still essentially nascent. Our growth has been enabled by the dynamic regulatory environment that Pakistan offers foreign investors. We have been able to actively pursue our vision of empowering societies through our GSM and financial services with the assistance of the progressive, business-friendly policies of successive governments.
Our journey in Pakistan has been rewarding but not without its difficulties. The telecom sector’s success has been made possible because our voice, and the voice of the industry, is heard by the government, the regulators and state agencies when we discuss ways to evolve economic, industrial, fiscal, and taxation policies. We have always found open doors to address grievances and to find ways and means to increase our impact on society and the economy.
We have found in Pakistan not just a thriving market but a home that rewards our industry and recognizes and embraces foreign investment as critical to fulfilling the country’s economic aspirations. As an investor, you couldn’t ask for more.
Foley is president and CEO of Telenor Pakistan. From our Nov. 1-15, 2014, issue.