Mobile broadband: PTA looks to sell off remaining frequencies

Published: January 22, 2015
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As per terms and conditions of 3G and 4G licences, the government cannot auction new spectrum within 18 months, starting from April 2014. CREATIVE COMMONS

As per terms and conditions of 3G and 4G licences, the government cannot auction new spectrum within 18 months, starting from April 2014. CREATIVE COMMONS

KARACHI: 

In a bid to sell off its remaining frequencies, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) is in the process of hiring consultants to sell licences for one frequency slot in 1,800 Megahertz (MHz) band and another in 850 MHz.

These are the same frequencies that remained unsold in the April 2014 spectrum auction of next generation mobile services (NGMS).

“In an attempt to further proliferate broadband services in Pakistan, the PTA intends to conduct a comprehensive market evaluation,” the telecom regulator said in Terms of Reference while inviting request for proposal (RFP) to hire consultants.

It further added that the aim is to clearly determine the market demand of spectrum, its base price and the best timeline to carry out further auction of spectrum.

The objective of the consultancy, the PTA says, is “to undertake a comprehensive assessment of Pakistan’s telecom market in terms of uptake, profitability, competitiveness and consumer choice of deployed mobile broadband technologies”.

The consultant would be required to determine viability and mode of further auction of spectrum for NGMS available with the government; according to the PTA. Additionally they will also develop a comprehensive report, providing guideline for the regulator to conduct the auction.

During the NGMS spectrum auction on April 23, 2014, the regulator had put on sale 30MHz of spectrum in 3G [2,100MHz] band and 20MHz of spectrum in 4G [1,800MHz] band. The base prices for 3G and 4G licences were $295 million per 10MHz and $210 million per 10MHz, respectively.

The PTA also put on auction the defunct Instaphone licence in 850MHz band with a base price of $291 million.

The government raised $1.1 billion through the auction, but it was not able to sell the entire spectrum – the 850MHz and one slot of 10MHz in 1800 MHz or 4G band remained unsold.

The PTA had restricted the 850MHz spectrum to new operators only but no new operator participated in the auction.

Information and communication technology (ICT) expert, Parvez Iftikhar termed the PTA’s decision of selling the remaining spectrum ‘a good move’.

“It is the need of the hour; the government should immediately sell whatever spectrum is available. This will help in the proliferation of mobile technology both in GSM and NGMS areas,” Iftikhar said.

The ICT expert, however, added that consultants should also be used to assess what spectrums and frequencies will be needed in the future and when to auction those.

As per terms and conditions of 3G and 4G licences, the government cannot auction new spectrum within 18 months, starting from April 2014.

However, these conditions do not apply on the unsold spectrum, which can be auctioned as early as possible, according to Iftikhar. “The government should also plan for bringing new spectrum as per needs of the local industry,” he said.

Though the timeline and spectrum price will be determined by the consultants who are yet to be hired, some players in the telecom industry have already expressed that it would be too early to sell more spectrum.

The cellular mobile operators are already engaged in re-verification of the entire user base through biometric devices, which is costly and time consuming, they say.

Moreover, the spectrum purchased in the last year’s auction is enough to cater to the needs of the market for the next few years, they add.

Several international operators have visited PTA and Ministry of IT and Telecom even after the spectrum auction and showed interest in the market. Besides, the local operators, particularly Warid telecom may also need additional frequency for it is already in the process of rolling out its Long Term Evolution (LTE) services on existing spectrum that carries its own limitations.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd,  2015.

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