Infrastructure Management

Pakistan Spectrum Auction to Drive ICT Revolution

Next-generation ICT infrastructure is paramount to the socioeconomic development of societies in a modern digital world heavily dependent on data delivery services. Yet, many developing countries have failed to adopt the latest mobile communication technologies such as 3G, 4G and LTE due to insufficient investor interest and lacking government policies.

Such is the case with Pakistan, a country yet to jump on the bandwagon of modern mobile communication technologies despite its position as the fifth largest mobile phone market in Asia with smartphone penetration of 10%.

However, things are set to change as Pakistan’s cash-strapped government prepares to auction public airwaves to introduce next gen mobile communication services in the country. The long awaited technology neutral spectrum auction is expected to take place in the March 2014 timeframe. The government expects around 15 local and foreign operators to bid for the available 30MHz paired spectrum in the 1900-2100MHz frequency band that’s more suitable to 3G than 4G and LTE technologies.

The streets of Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city and home to the world’s highest concentration of Punjabi people, are abuzz with criticism of the slow rate of technology adoption in the country.

“We are yet to see 3G when India has already launched a spacecraft to Mars,” says a local workshop mechanic in response to my questions about the spectrum auction.

He was, after all, excited about the new technology, however, to provide support for bandwidth-hungry applications.

“I bought an expensive smartphone to pass my free time here streaming videos and video-calling my friends, but the GPRS (2.5G mobile internet standard) is of no use to me,” he laments.

Gyorgy Koller, CTO of Telenor Pakistan, believes the emerging market has the potential to yield high Average Revenue per User (ARPU) metrics for carriers, similar to those achieved in well-established European and Asian markets.

“There are two major advantages of this [network upgrade] exercise,” Koller said in a recent interview with The Express Tribune. “The first and the most obvious one is being ready for 3G technology. Secondly, there will be an overall benefit from using modern equipment that is energy-efficient and less taxing on the already scarce energy resources of Pakistan.”

The Norwegian telecom giant Telenor generates only 5-6% of its global revenue from Pakistan although it’s the second largest cellular company in the country. That number is expected to rise significantly once the new comms infrastructure is in service, allowing operators to deliver high-quality data services to eagerly-awaiting citizens in Pakistan.

For now, the energy crisis and constraints due to low ARPU prevent carriers and ICT service providers from introducing e-health, e-learning, e-agriculture and other services to disadvantaged regions of Pakistan. Availability of 3G and 4G spectrum will reduce energy consumption by 20%, according to Koller, allowing telecom companies also to connect far-off rural regions not economically viable to reach with conventional 2G communication technologies.

However, the data market in Pakistan is far from being saturated and is in fact underserved. Unlike the European and American markets that have already embraced advanced communication technologies, there’s a vast space for vertical growth in the Pakistan telecom sector. Investors have already set their sights on government and private organisations seeking high-speed cellular data services only possible with 3G or better technologies.

The government also plans to establish shared-use telecentres in rural areas to deliver ICT based services efficiently to undeserved communities via advanced 3G and 4G networking infrastructure.

Minister of State for IT and Telecom (MoITT) Anusha Rahman has said she intends to spark an IT revolution in Pakistan by rolling out high-speed networks “to promote universal access and universal service to telecommunications and information services as an empowerment vehicle for disadvantaged communities."

The MoITT is focused on closing the gap between rural and urban areas with initiatives such as the telecentres that, the Minister said, will “promote affordable Universal Access and Universal Service in ICT for disadvantaged communities, especially in the poverty-stricken areas of the country, to facilitate development, empowerment and economic growth as its likely outcome is more than 120,000 new employment opportunities".


Ali Raza is a business and technology consultant who covers consumer and enterprise technology issues for US and international publications. As a racing driver and a stunt master, only cars eclipse his love for technology.


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Ali Raza

Ali Raza is a business and technology consultant who covers consumer and enterprise technology issues for US and international publications. As a racing driver and a stunt master, only cars eclipse his love for technology.

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