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Global Development Institute

Analysing the Mobile Telecommunications Market in a Developing Country: A Socio-Technical Perspective on Pakistan

Ping Gao and Adnan Rafiq


This paper studies the dynamics of the mobile telecommunications market and the factors responsible for the deployment and growth of mobile infrastructure in the context of developing countries. Our analytical framework treats the mobile telecommunications market as a socio-technical system. Specifically, we define the telecommunications market as being composed of technology standards and three sets of social actors that include government institutions, network and service providers, and users. We show how this model can be used to analyse the telecommunications sector in developing countries by using a specific case study.

The study examines the case of Pakistan's mobile telecommunications market. It concludes that social actors together determine the adoption of standards and services, and thus shape the trajectory of the market. Our case study provides evidence that a pro-competition policy is imperative for mobile telecommunications development in developing countries, and that an independent regulator is critical in promoting technological innovation.

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Educator's guide

Synopsis questions

  1. Why research the telecommunications market in a developing country?  [Introduction].
  2. What model is suggested for analysing the telecommunications market?  [Part A].
  3. Summarise the development of the mobile telecommunications sector in Pakistan between 1990 and 2007.  [Part B].
  4. What factors contributed to the development of the mobile telecommunications sector in Pakistan between 1990 and 2007?  [Part C1].
  5. What conclusions can be drawn from comparing Pakistan's experience to that of other developing countries?  [Part C2].

Development questions

  1. What factors might the analysis framework described in Part A be missing?
  2. Out of the four factors identified in the analytical framework, which one would you argue is most important?
  3. If advising mobiles telecommunications policy makers in another developing country, what key recommendations would you make on the basis of this paper?