ECC may approve spectrum strategy

Three-year strategy will ensure faster telecom network speed

Zafar Bhutta September 16, 2020
A senior govt official said the spectrum strategy would provide a roadmap to the operators and manufacturers for investment in the telecom sector. PHOTO: FILE


The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC), scheduled to meet on Wednesday, is expected to approve the Rolling Spectrum Strategy 2020-23 for a faster network speed.

At the beginning of the millennium, the mobile industry had been looking at developing mobile broadband capabilities. It took 3G a decade to take off and demonstrate the viability for mobile networks to deliver internet access.

With the appetite for faster connection, the industry has upgraded the network to 4G/advanced LTE and this is spreading rapidly across the world right now.

In foreign markets, telecom operators are looking at aggregating spectrum to achieve higher speeds. For example, Zain Kuwait, Namibia’s MTC and Australia’s Optus have announced trials that pushed download speed to 1Gbps and above.

The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication said in the three-year spectrum strategy that it was the result of applying techniques such as Mimo, carrier aggregation and higher-order modulation, which drove spectrum efficiency as well network speed.

Research and development work continues to push the envelope as equipment manufacturers prepare for the next phase - the International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) 2020 standards or 5G, revealed the spectrum strategy.

It said trials were already under way and several mobile network operators were working with equipment manufacturers to test IMT 2020 capabilities. Under the IMT 2020, a total spectrum of 17.25 GHz has been identified.

There are a few key factors that have helped to accelerate the growth of mobile services and they fundamentally point to an expanding ecosystem that enables faster innovation both in terms of technologies as well as use of these technologies.

The IT ministry had requested the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and the Frequency Allocation Board to come up with recommendations for the Rolling Spectrum Strategy. The board has prepared the strategy for 2020-23.

With growing demand for wireless communications and spectrum, it is necessary for the spectrum management organisations to put in place spectrum management activities in a structured and transparent manner.

This is the main goal of the spectrum master plan and a report has been developed by incorporating international best practices that are applicable to Pakistan.

The spectrum master plan provides a future roadmap for spectrum allocation as well as spectrum-related policy reviews that are anticipated to take place between 2020 and 2023.

Section 2 of the report discusses global trends around wireless communications and highlights the challenges faced by spectrum managers. It provides for approaches that are now being adopted/investigated by various countries to overcome some of the challenges.

It also looks at different radio services, current utilisation in Pakistan and future outlook for various spectrum bands. Some spectrum bands will need to be reframed before they can be allocated and these issues are being elaborated in the report.

The publication of a spectrum roadmap helps commercial operators in their network planning investments. It is crucial to recognise that the pace of change in industry is rapid and while the aim is to ensure transparency and certainty for the industry, there is a need to review the plan (after every three years) to ensure that the plan continues to be relevant.

A senior government official said the spectrum strategy would provide a roadmap to the operators and manufacturers for investment in the telecom sector.

He said it had been pending for the past five years and it was going to be approved for the first time. It would provide visibility to investors and the spectrum strategy would be reviewed after every three years.

Global trends

Globally, the wireless communications industry has undergone several major shifts that are resulting in convergence of services and technologies.

The last decade saw a tremendous growth in demand for mobile services while some services such as paging ceased to exist.

Today, there are over 9.4 billion mobile connections globally, exceeding the total world population. This means that the adoption of mobile services is not just happening in the affluent markets but it is also taking place the developing world.

In Pakistan, the number of subscribers grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 32% from 2003 to 2019. There is still room for growth as the current mobile penetration of around 77% is low compared to many countries.

Based on the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) statistics for mobile cellular subscription, more than 50% of countries have already surpassed 100% mobile penetration.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 16th, 2020.

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