March 28, 2007 10:00 AM PDT

From Pakistan to S.F., it's a whole new tech world

SAN FRANCISCO--You don't often see white iPod earbuds on the streets of Islamabad. Here in the city by the bay? Now that's a different story.

It's been a few weeks since I arrived in California for my stint as a visiting reporter at CNET My editor suggested I do a piece on the differences in the high-tech gear used here and in my home city, Islamabad, Pakistan.

It sounded like an interesting idea, and the most obvious place to start is with Apple's iPod. In San Francisco, admittedly a major technology center, they're everywhere. You have to interrupt people's MP3 revelry just to ask directions.

Zamir in S.F.

Perhaps I'm exaggerating, but it's strange to me that, at a glance, around 80 percent of the people on the street or on underground trains seem to be using an iPod or other MP3 player.

According to The NPD Group, 24.4 million portable digital players were sold in the United States in 2006 alone. Where is credit due for that proliferation--the value of the music itself, or the iPod technology that's made music so easy to carry around? Now you can even watch videos on iPods, which are probably not even used by 1 percent of people in Pakistan. There, FM radios on cell phones are getting popular.

That leads me to computers and the Internet. Pakistan has experienced amazing growth in computer literacy, but I witnessed the true potential for its application here in the Bay Area. During my first week at Stanford University for the kickoff workshop of the program that brought me here (the Innovation Journalism Fellowship Program), I saw wireless Internet facilities in almost every building of the campus.

Every student seemed to carry a laptop and had universal Internet access. The landlords in my San Francisco apartment use a wireless Internet connection at home, and I was told that now almost every household has Wi-Fi. That's an overstatement, no doubt, but there are certainly many Wi-Fi-enabled homes.

According to the Ministry of Finance's Economic Survey of Pakistan for fiscal 2005-2006, computer use in urban households is high. In comparison with the literacy rate--53 percent--at least 40 percent of Pakistanis are computer literate or have access to computers.

Mostly, these are Pentium II or Pentium III PCs, since laptops are expensive. PCs are now widely available at good prices, thanks to Chinese computers flooding the markets. Most of these machines are not big brands, but they do say "Intel Inside." As for laptops, they come from various brands like Dell, Toshiba, Compaq, Sony and Apple. Wireless Internet connections, on the other hand, are still rare.

Dialing up through the phone lines
In Pakistan, 99 percent of Internet connections are still over phone lines. Wi-Fi is generally seen only at five-star hotels and now at a few restaurants. People at home usually use Internet cards of various denominations starting from 10 rupees per hour (16 cents) to 100 rupees per 10 hours ($1.60). Connection speeds through Internet cards are generally poor.

Getting permanent Internet connections from an Internet service provider is expensive, but most businesses do get connections from these companies.

Mobile phones are the most common form of personal technology seen in Pakistan. Connecting to the Internet through mobile phones is getting popular now, but it probably will still take another a year or more to be as popular as it is here in California.

People here are excited about the coming of the Apple iPhone. That's what I hear people talking about when I go to any of the mobile phone outlets in San Francisco.

In Pakistan, people aren't that much different when it comes to mobile phones. They're fond of buying expensive cell phones not for technology purposes alone, but also largely to show off.

About 1.6 million subscribers are added on cellular mobile networks each month in Pakistan, which serves as a great comparison to any Asian country. In fact, the total mobile subscribers at the end of April 2006 crossed the 29.6 million mark, a substantial portion of my country's total population--around 160 million, according to the Economic Survey of Pakistan.

People here keep a close watch on the new high-tech televisions and home theater systems. My landlord has a 32-inch Vizio TV for the apartment in which I live. Broadly speaking, it seems that the consumer can go for new models in TVs because of a greater purchasing power in the overall economy.

In Pakistan, it's different. The large-screen plasma TVs are good to watch in big electronic stores, but as for buying them? Plasma TVs in Pakistan are expensive, starting from 30,000 rupees (about $500) to 120,000 rupees ($2,000). To understand what that means in Islamabad, it helps to know that the average monthly income per household is around 12,000 rupees (about $200).

In Pakistan, there are no monthly purchase plans. Plastic money has made its roots, but not many people have credit cards. The banks have started offering credit cards to account holders, but only to those who qualify for some credit-worthiness, such as those with a monthly salary of more than 12,000 rupees (about $200).

At home in Pakistan, I hear little talk about technology innovation. But in downtown San Francisco--in bars, on television, on street corners--people talk about tech features coming in the new cars, new technology in the iPod, video games, and an array of gadgets.

It's a different world.

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Pakistan, San Francisco, wireless Internet, wireless Internet connection, phone line


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True Relative comparison with humility
This article is very interesting and has been written with a great deal of honest comparison and humility. Having travelled to much of the these regions of late, i hardly meet any natives who give me an honest appraisal of their surroundings. There is dire contrast between the rich and the poor, let alone the difference between technology and quality of lifestyle in general between the various regions of the world. Though globalisation has brought an influx of wealth to ease the economic difference, this point of comparison still needs much more time and lots more awareness to even think of having a remotely close comparison.
Posted by seenijg (1 comment )
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From SF To Pakistan: Reverse Perspective
A few years ago I moved back to Pakistan from a ten year stint in Mountain View. While I was there, I remember travelling to New York and being amazed at how low tech things seemed compared to Silicon Valley. The Valley's tech culture is very advanced, even when compared to other US cities. Naturally, I was expecting to enter the technology stone ages when I moved back to Pakistan to setup the offshore development office for my US company.

To my surprise, the infrastructure in Pakistan was pretty good. I soon had my house wired up with broadband and wireless. LUMS, Pakistan's equivalent of Standford, also has wireless access throughout its campus. There are almost 12 Million Internet users in Pakistan, which boasts a higher penetration as a percentage of the population than neighboring India. The first large scale Motorola WiMax deployment is happening... of all places... in Pakistan. The information technology industry is growing by over 50% each year and GDP rates have been sustained around 8% for the past several years. Our nascent job site,, is seeing drammatic growth in Pakistan with local employers shifting to the Internet to recruit new employees.

Today, there are about 42 Million mobile phone users in Pakistan, which translates to about 25% of the population. Some amazing mobile applications are emerging and when I travel back to the valley, the lack of SMS ubiquity seems a little backwards! Mobile networks here are leapfrogging the legacy networks of the US.

That's not to say I don't miss the Valley. For example, I often crave for a Starbucks Tall Mocha. But they are opening Starbucks here soon, I hear.
Posted by monisrahman (2 comments )
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Not that bad back home you know!
A few corrections to this article.

For the record, Illusion in Jinnah Super (Islamabad's city center) sells all models of iPods the moment they hit the US market--people carry them to work and play. My sister got a Nano last year and she works in Karachi where she is no minority.

Young people in the major cities are fairly mad about computers. If you don't get the fastest processor on the market, you cannot play multiple software and upgrade them at the speed of light OR play the newest PC games. They are absolutely addicted to those.

In the cities, people rely on a widespread LAN system for their internet connectivity which in layman's term back home is called 'cable net'. And DSL is making fast inroads albeit at a cost. Dial-up may rule roost in the rural areas of Pakistan.
Posted by zunairadurrani (1 comment )
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CNET Article: Pakistan Plans Largest WiMax Rollout
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I forgot to add in my previous post, that today there are over 1 Million credit card holders in Pakistan. With the boom in the consumer banking sector, this number is also growing quickly.
Posted by monisrahman (2 comments )
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More on Topic
Overall the article is not bad, but this would be unfair to compair Pakistan with U.S.

Atleast the writer had to compair Pakistan with-in its own regional countries. Pakistan's rapid growth in telecome sector (i.e. IT/Telecom/mobile/Wireless/Broadband etc.) is much much faster in the region.


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Posted by AnwerKamal (1 comment )
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Its actually 50 Million Cellular Phone Users
Pakistan mobile market is much bigger - its just crossed the 50 Million mark, which means a cellular penetration of over 32%. Its been growing at just over 2 Million a month in recent months. (check for details)

As for technology, you've got to be kidding. Virtually everyone I know has a home computer, uses internet at home as well as at work, has cable, and listens to mp3s in one form or another.

I actually have 2 ipods in my office right now. One is from a friend who just got one and asked me to help configure it. Like another comment pointed out, the latest iPods hit the market here as soon as they are released - tons of shops sell them. And you can also get the latest accesories without a problem. (I have my eye on the latest Belkin AV dock which I spotted in my local shop a few weeks ago).

High-speed internet at workplace is pretty much a standard-issue, every business worth its name has it.

Its ridiculously simple to get connected, there are so many service providers that competition has pushed prices thru the floor.

And oh, lets not forget digital cameras. I cant remember the last time I saw anyone use a non-digital camera at a wedding, or any other function.

So, we're really drowing in gadgets here - and loving every minute of it :)
Posted by Farid98 (1 comment )
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Which Islamabad are you coming from?
I know it's hard to find interesting topics to write about with a limited imagination, Zamir, but this is going a bit too far.

There's a ton of innovation happening in Islamabad. Safi Qureshi's (founder of AST computer) company was designing high performance optical switches there, the PSEB Software Parks have exceeded their capacity and companies are finding it hard to get office space. FiveRivers has designed a handheld computer and OS from the ground up. Scrybe, Deosai, PicSense, iShop and a bunch of Web 2.0 companies are based out of Pakistan.

As for personal technology, no one uses ipods because everyone listens to music on their cell phones. There's even the ability to make your mp3s the default ring that people calling you listen to - this is supported on all the major networks. WLL is mushrooming, there's 256Kbps capacity available wirelessly through the CDMA networks from Worldcall, Etisalat/PTC and TeleCard. The cell networks have been providing EDGE services for a year. There are $2Bn worth of cell phones being imported into the country every year. So much so that a Chinese company is now setting up full cell phone manufacturing operations near Karachi to create a local alternative.

There's 2 million new cell subscribers being added to the cell networks every month. There are 50 million active cell connections in Pakistan already.

Moreover, SMS and MMS are used far more frequently as a messaging medium as opposed to email. That's why the traditional US measures of "email penetration" don't apply to Pakistan. SMSs in the US are very expensive, whereas they cost 10 paisas or 360 messages for ONE dollar in Pakistan.

The ipod just isn't popular there - it's functionally the same as a $50 chinese mp4 player and it costs 5 times as much. But having an ipod is hardly a reflection of the technological development or comfort level of a society.

I must say, your views are divorced from reality.

Initiatives like the
Posted by siriuspk (1 comment )
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Which Islamabad is this?
You are way off track. I think you are carried away by the lure of the Bay Area. I myself was at Stanford for about a year in 2005 from Islamabad and I can assure you that Pakistan is not what you portray.

This email is being written through a Wifi connection on a DSL bandwidth. Yes, every major ISP in Pakistan is selling DSL, it is your decision to get that connection or not.

I think, I would request you to check your facts before you report erroneous facts.
Posted by amumtaz (2 comments )
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From Pakistan to S.F
I think you are biased towards the US. It's quite contrary in some cases, if not most, when you talk of the emerging technologies and the gadgets. For instance, GSM came to Pakistan in 1993 and in the US it started in 2000. Some may argue that CDMA was dominant in the US but eventually GSM got accepted here (US). Pakistan is way ahead when it comes to GSM phones.
No doubt, because of the greater purchasing power you see a greater presence of technology in the US.
WiMax has come to Pakistan sooner than it has to the US.

Posted by soheru (1 comment )
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GDP, Mobile Subscribers, Internet, Orkut, Credit Cards & Prepaid Cards...
I'm sure the reason your editor suggested a story about Pakistan is in itself an evidence about Pakistan being one of the fastest growing economies of the world with one more competitive advantage (in comparison to other APAC countries obviously excluding China &#38; India) - large English speaking population.

Moreover, FYI only:

PK GDP Growth Rate 2006: 6.6% (ADB)
PK GDP Growth Rate 2007: 7% (ADB Estimate)

Mobile Subscribers 2006: 48 million (PTA; I'd consider max 2/3rds as active)
No. of SMS in 2005: 2.5 billion (PTA; 2006 figure not yet published)
Mobile Phones Imported in 2006: 10~15 million (Pak Tribune)

Computers Sold in 2006: 1 million (PSEB &#38; Bearing Point)
YoY Computer Hardware Market Growth Rate: 20%+

Internet Users 2006: 10~15 million (CIA; I'd add few more due to high users/connection ratio)
Internet Household Penetration 2006: 5.1% (eMarketer)
Orkut 2006: Pakistan was the 3rd largest country by use (Orkut News)
Rent-a-Coder 2006: Pakistan ranked in Top 5 Countries of highest completed jobs (Rent-a-Coder)

Connectivity: Dial-up: 95% (estimate)
Connectivity: ADSL: 256Kbps CIR with 2GB Cap is for US $20/month
Connectivity: ADSL: 512Kbps CIR with 8GB Cap is for US $135/month
Other Connectivity Options: GPRS, Edge, CDMA (local loop) &#38; WiMax

Prepaid Cards Volume 2006 (of any denomination): 40 million cards / month (Personal Research)
Total Card Subsctibers (incl. Credit/Debit/ATM) in 2006: 5 million (SBP)

Just to add here, I'm one of the beta/trial users of WiMax being offered by Wateen Telecom and deployed by Motorola. In short, it is great!

And in my very humble opinion: IPod is not the right yard-stick to get an idea of how gadget/IT/e/Internet-savy is an avg Pakistani. You also need to take into account socio-religio-political-economic perspectives as well. With an avg income of US $200~300 / month, affording a dedicated personal music player is not easy. But a cheap multi-function mobile phone which has a basic MP3 player &#38; camera is still a better bargain.

Looking forward to more analytical news &#38; articles about Pakistan on CNET.

Best of Luck!

Badar Khushnood
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Posted by badar.khushnood (1 comment )
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this is a classic case of an ABCD writer coming "home" to write about something with absolutely no groundwork or research. it's appaling to see CNET letting this happen. Islamabad is clearly not representative of "pakistan". had the writer decided to go out to the real Pakistan he might have seen the difference. I wonder how much he billed CNET for expenses for this shoddy piece! tardy reporting and not even close to the truth.
Posted by shakirhusain (1 comment )
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I am amazed why the CNET editors haven't taken off this worthless piece yet. This has even played down the credibility of the "Innovation Journalism Fellowship Program".
Posted by NILTECH (1 comment )
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You?re a piece of waste
You called it worthless for no reason, which makes you sound arrogant and desperate. People like you can?t stand things discussed about Pakistan. I don?t know what the reason behind that ridiculousness is let me tell you something, no one gives a flying **** about what you say, Mr. So called racially prejudiced.
Posted by Ehsanji (2 comments )
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What a disgrace!
I wonder how CNet has taken this writer on board who seems to come out of a remote village. I am not sure anybody living in Pakistan can't write such a degrading piece of IT in Pakistan.

"Mostly, these are Pentium II or Pentium III PCs, since laptops are expensive. PCs are now widely available at good prices, thanks to Chinese computers flooding the markets. Most of these machines are not big brands, but they do say "Intel Inside." As for laptops, they come from various brands like Dell, Toshiba, Compaq, Sony and Apple. Wireless Internet connections, on the other hand, are still rare."

Well, I don't think anybody even in the villages use a P1 anymore. P3s are generally used everywhere and in corporates/IT houses normally go for P4/ Dual core type of stuff. Also, laptops are in abundance now, loaded with all the hot stuff like bluetooth, wifi etc.

"In Pakistan, 99 percent of Internet connections are still over phone lines."

This is again a negative remark. If he is living in Pakistan since last 3 years, he should be aware of the exponential raise of DSL which is now practically everywhere. Dialups are now used only in villages.

"Getting permanent Internet connections from an Internet service provider is expensive, but most businesses do get connections from these companies."

Does he mean a DSL with this? If yes then he is incorrect again. I use 256K shared DSL at home for $50 per month which is not too bad in our standards.

"In Pakistan, there are no monthly purchase plans. Plastic money has made its roots, but not many people have credit cards. The banks have started offering credit cards to account holders, but only to those who qualify for some credit-worthiness, such as those with a monthly salary of more than 12,000 rupees (about $200)."

Was the guy living in caves? Credit Cards are the norm of the day. Consumer financing is the in thing. Credit-worthiness is verified globally not just in Pakistan so this not something to cry about.

I fail to understand why someone hailing from Pakistan want to make a false case of situation back home. Was he trying to win sympathies? or personal grant?

Do us a favour and pack him off.
Posted by kashaziz (1 comment )
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