ISLAMABAD: How can one mobile service operator offer 4G at no added expense, while others have to pay the government over $200 million so they can launch the same service?

Warid Telecom took the telecom sector by surprise when it announced plans to launch 4G services without bidding at last month’s auction. Zong, which has been advertising itself as the “first and only” company to offer 4G services in Pakistan, is particularly affected. Zong has said that it will take about a year to launch 4G services, but Warid seems ready to ‘go 4G’ in comparatively less time.

According to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), all five cellular service providers were initially allocated frequencies from the 1,800MHz spectrum in order to launch their services.This spectrum has now been allocated to provide 4G services.

However, unlike Warid – which has the least subscribers of all networks – other service providers have congested their bandwidth by adding on millions of subscribers over the years.

This would also explain connection problems and slow internet speeds for their customers.

According to a PTA spokesperson, “They need more bandwidth – or greater space – to accommodate an increasing number of subscribers as well as provide high-speed data services.”

PTA’s 2013 report states that Mobilink has the highest number of subscribers, with a market share of 30 per cent.Telenor too, is ranked amongst the companies with the most subscribers and enjoys a market share of nearly 25 per cent. However Warid has the lowest number of subscribers with 10 per cent of the market share.

“The spectrum required depends on the company’s business plan, plans to increase subscriber base and the financial health of the company to afford the cost of the licence. Except Warid, which has room to add more subscribers without increasing its bandwidth, it makes good business sense for other operators to increase bandwidth in order to improve voice and data services as well as providing next generation mobile services and remain competitive,” said the PTA spokesperson, when explaining why Warid stayed away from the 3G/4G licence auction last month.

However, when Warid approached PTA last month with the desire to launch 4G services, the PTA responded through a statement that the purpose of the new spectrum was to offer faster broadband/data services.Therefore, it required new parameters and performance indicators.

“On the basis of this, PTA is saying that if Warid is inclined to offer 4G on its existing licence agreements and spectrum, the authority will have to look into the licence agreement and bring Warid under similar conditions to winners of the auction.

The PTA is interested in learning how Warid will be using the present spectrum.Technical details with regard to 4G services have to be shared and agreed upon by the PTA,” said the spokesperson.

PTA also maintains that, “Warid’s existing licence is technology-neutral but does not provide any quality of service (QoS) parameters and key performance indicators (KPIs) for the 4G service.”

The PTA spokesperson said that Warid would have to comply with the KPIs and QoS parameters laid down by the authority regarding 4G services.

“The offer of 4G/LTE services by Warid will have to go through a process as per their licence as well as requirements assuring proper coverage, quality of service, enhanced monitoring requirements etc. This may entail changes to Warid's existing cellular mobile telephone services licence,” he said.

An industry analyst explained how Warid is well within its legal rights to launch 4G on its existing 1,800MHz spectrum.

“Other cellular companies can also go 4G since they have bandwidths from the same spectrum.The only problem Warid faces is the limited bandwidth,” said Internet Service Providers Association Pakistan Convener Wahajus Siraj.

“Around the world, licences are technology neutral because it keeps changing. However, services can be regulated to set standards to ensure quality service,” he added.

The impression in the market is that China Mobile (Zong) surfaced as the largest operator after winning the maximum spectrum on auction, and was unlikely to lose its position as a dominant player in the future. China Mobile spokesperson, Sheldon Godinho said: “We expect a level playing field for all.”

Other operators are mostly unaffected by Warid offering 4G services, since the technology is too expensive and they are choosing instead to launch 3G services and aim for faster 4G service in the next five years.

“Our analysis shows that there is a greater penetration of 3G handsets as compared to 4G handsets amongst mobile data customers in the industry and hence we are geared up accordingly.

We will look into various options in the future when the government announces its intent to auction the remaining 4G spectrum,” said Mobilink spokesperson Omar Manzoor.

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