In today’s world, countries cannot hope to progress until they can acquire a degree of mastery over the silicon and semiconductor revolution. This is the hope with which the policies for allowing local manufacture of smartphones were launched in the country. And now, its early dividends, as explained recently by the Adviser to Prime Minister on Commerce and Investment Abdul Razaq Dawood, show how the policy helped lower imports of fully assembled smartphones by 73%. Correspondingly, there has been a 407% increase in the import of smartphone parts.
With nearly 190 million people using mobile telephony in the country, and around half of the country’s population accessing the internet via mobile broadband, smartphones are as necessary as water and power. Moreover, it is simply unfeasible for a cash-strapped country like ours to spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually to import basic devices. By locally assembling phones, we have managed to not only cut import costs but have attracted nearly $763 million in investment for setting up assembly infrastructure in the country for some of the top global smartphone manufacturers. This has not only helped create hundreds of new jobs but also helped lower the cost of basic cellphones which are sold in the $200 category in the country, making them more accessible to a growing impoverished class.
One would hope that in the next phase, Pakistan will progress to expand infrastructure and personnel capability in locally manufacturing the components that go into these devices and eventually move towards the design, complete manufacture and even export of phones, much like the neighbouring India. However, we must take care and not allow this policy to suffer the same fate as the automobile sector where even after decades of assembly, we are still importing most parts. Phone manufacturers in Pakistan must train locals to develop new technologies and devices locally to ensure a true transfer of technology so that someday we build the smartphone of the future.