With the recent auction concluded for 3G and 4G licenses in Pakistan, there was a great deal of speculation as to why telecom giant Warid was not participating in the tender.
Some saw this move as a sign that Warid would be selling out, while others thought that the Emirati-based company was showing no confidence in the government’s ability to hold such an auction and therefore decided not to waste its time.
What happened in reality was something that almost threw people off their seats.
In a surprise move, Warid started to advertise the launch of 4G LTE. Now if the difference between 3G and 4G wasn't confusing enough, bringing LTE or Long Term Evolution into the mix can only leave the average consumer baffled.
To be clear, 3G, or third generation technology, was the first technology introduced after 2.5G or EDGE as we know it. This technology allowed for faster data speeds and permitted users to make voice calls while simultaneously using data. i.e. you could talk on the phone while continuing to browse through Facebook.
With 4G, or fourth generation, things get a little complicated. There are different versions of 4G as we are learning. There is 4G and 4G LTE. Some argue that LTE is the real 4G but that too is being debated under the International Telecommunications Union, who argue that LTE Advance and WiMax Release 2 are the only true forms of 4G. However, for simplicities sake, we will leave that debate aside for this article.
When cellular companies use the term 4G on its own, they are normally referring to HSPA+ or High Speed Packet Access where the plus stands for an evolved technology over 3G. In simplistic terms, this means that you get faster data speeds over 3G. Where one would expect 3G to give us approximately two megabits per second (Mb/s), 4G should clock in anywhere between 5 Mb/s to 10 Mb/s.
LTE was developed by 3GPP in order to increase the speed while reducing latency — the amount of time a webpage takes to buffer on your browser. This was achieved through improving the way data is processed between the device and cell sites. We should expect speeds anywhere between 5Mb/s to 15 Mb/s depending on the network congestion and cell sites.
So, did Warid really surprise everyone, including the PTA by announcing the launch of 4G LTE?
In my personal opinion: No.
Warid, when it first launched in 2004 came into Pakistan holding 8.8 Mhz spectrum in the 1,800 Mhz band and 5 Mhz spectrum in the 900 Mhz band. This would allow it to launch LTE on the 1800 Mhz while transferring the voice calls to the 900 Mhz.
Since the subscriber base of Warid is not large enough the current spectrum is sufficient for Warid to launch 4G LTE without requiring additional spectrum like the other operators.
This isn't a mere coincidence. Warid came into Pakistan with a long-term plan and being awarded a technology neutral license wasn’t just an oversight but rather brilliant planning from the Abu Dhabi Group owned company.
The PTA had to have full knowledge of this and the current tussle between Warid and the PTA over agreement issues seems merely to reduce the grievance of other mobile operators who collectively just dished out $1.1 billion.
Whatever the real story behind Warids entry and the auction, the real winners of this will be the people of Pakistan.
Although, at first, one may not see the real benefits of having 3G and 4G in Pakistan aside from the fact that one has faster internet on their mobile devices, the new platform will change the current market drastically.
We will see increase in e-commerce. Online content will be available to more people easily. The way we consume information from television to print media will all develop around this faster technology. Consumers will be able to shop online which means businesses will have far greater reach. Education will not be limited to classrooms. Students could access lectures happening at, for example LUMS, from a small village in Sindh.
The benefits and the possibilities of this technology are endless.
It is an exciting time for Pakistan and the way we chose to adopt this new era in mobile communication is only limited by our imagination. Critics will argue that this technology has been around for years and Pakistan is lagging behind.
I say, well, better late than never - and if Warid wants in, that is good news.