PTA likely to put 4G spectrum on sale

Pakistan Press Foundation

KARACHI: In addition to the already proposed third-generation (3G) cellular technology, Islamabad is likely to sell 4G spectrum as it carries out the much-awaited licence auction for the next-generation mobile internet services this March.

“The Information Memorandum (IM) is in its final stages and includes recommendation for selling some spectrum in 1,800 megahertz (MHz), a popular band for 4G technology,” a well-informed source told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity.

The IM is the main policy document that carries details relating to the spectrum auction. A team of international consultants from Value Partners Management Consulting Limited and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) – the telecom sector’s regulatory body responsible for executing the auction – is working on finalising this important document.

To be published anytime this month, the IM is one of the final steps leading to the auction ceremony.

“The recommendation for 4G spectrum will be subject to the government’s approval but PTA is very optimistic about a positive response,” the official said, hinting this would only be a formality.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government had already promised jumping on to the advance 4G technology in its election manifesto.

As per last year’s policy directive of the Ministry of IT and Telecommunication, the PML-N government had decided to allocate 30 MHz paired spectrum in the 1,900-2,100 MHz band for next-generation mobile networks. As opposed to calling it 3G, the government had termed the auction as technology neutral – meaning the operator would decide whether to launch 3G or 4G.

However, experts say the proposed 1,900-2,100 MHz band is the most famous one for 3G service – an indication the country would receive the same.

Experts argue that while Pakistan had been struggling to roll out 3G services, more than 160 countries launched this technology, taking the number of active 3G subscriptions to nearly two billion. The country is behind many other countries, which are moving towards 4G and 5G by now.

If approved by the government, the decision to sell 4G spectrum would be in line with what the experts have been suggesting lately.

“Along with 3G, the government should auction whatever spectrum is available in the 4G band because it is in the greater national interest,” former chief of Universal Services Fund and an expert on information communications technology, Parvez Iftikhar, said.

By putting 4G spectrum on auction, the government would be able to raise a higher amount and the consumers would get advanced technology at the same time, Iftikhar said. The government expects to raise $2 billion from the auction process while it has already set a conservative target of $1.2 billion.

It is justified to ask for 4G, which already covers 20% of the global population and is projected to cover half the world by 2017, Iftikhar wrote in one of his columns published in this newspaper.

There will be nearly a billion 4G connections by 2017 with one in five mobile broadband connections to be 4G/LTE, leaping from the current 176 million, he said.

3G is much cheaper for the ultimate users because of the economies of scale, according to Iftikhar, but 4G offers higher speed – much needed for future needs of the consumers and their machines.

Wireless broadband would become available immediately and cheaply through 3G while actual groundwork would begin for 4G, if auctioned, Iftikhar said. “Even if we sell 4G spectrum today, it will take the service providers about a year to launch the service,” he added.

Express Tribune

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