ISLAMABAD: The government on Wednesday decided to hold a spectrum auction of 2100MHz band in 2x5 bandwidth for 10 years for the Next Generation of Mobile Services (NGMS) although three out of four existing cellular operators had opposed the fresh auction.

The decision was taken at the first meeting of the Spectrum Auction Advisory Committee (SAAC) presided over by Finance Minister Miftah Ismail and attended by ministers for information technology and telecom, economic affairs, commerce and power besides the chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and other members and stakeholders.

The finance minister told the meeting that the government was aiming at improving mobile broadband services as this sector contributed heavily to the country’s economic development. “The committee unanimously decided to go for auction of 2100 MHz band in 5, 5 MHz bandwidth for 10 years using the current consultant’s report at net present value”, an announcement said.

The committee was briefed about demand and supply and recommendations of PTA for the release of available spectrum for NGMS in Pakistan. It was also shared that 4G penetration was spectacularly increasing in the country which was a really good sign for the development of the IT-related infrastructure in the county.

Three cellular operators oppose the move

The meeting was told that the frequency spectrum was available in two major categories — 1800MHz band in 1733.9–1737.5 or 1828.9-1832.5MHz frequency with a total available bandwidth of 2x3.6MHz and 2100MHz band in 1960-1975 or 2150–2165 MHz frequency with a total available bandwidth of 2x5 MHz.

The meeting was told that three operators — Jazz, China Mobile and Ufone — had opposed the fresh auction for one or another reason while Telenor showed keen interest in 2x5 MHz spectrum allocation in the 2100MHz band.

The 15-member SAAC was constituted last month by the Federal Cabinet to oversee the process and secure the best out-of-spectrum auctions for NGMS. The committee led by Finance Minister Dr Miftah Ismail comprised four other federal ministers, three federal secretaries and representatives from other telecom stakeholders including General Headquarters (GHQ) and Inter-Services Intelligence.

The committee has been tasked to examine and evaluate the market assessment report and spectrum demand and supply and recommendations of PTA for the release of available spectrum for NGMS.

The committee is also required to examine and finalise the policy directive for the federal government for the release of the NGMS spectrum and oversee the auction and release process to be conducted by PTA. The Ministry of Information Technology & Telecommunication had proposed four federal ministers for the committee including the finance minister as its chairman and three other ministers — for information technology, economic affairs and science and technology.

However, the nomination of the minister for science and technology was replaced and instead two more ministers — for power and commerce — were included in the SAAC on the recommendations of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet. As such, the number of federal ministers in the SAAC increased to five including the finance minister as the chairman.

Other members of the committee include secretaries for Finance, IT & Telecom and Law & Justice Divisions besides Chairman PTA, Executive Director Frequency Allocation Board, a representative of GHQ, Director General Technical of ISI, Members Legal and Telecom of IT ministry and any other person that the committee may wish to co-opt.

The spectrum auctions for NGMS in Pakistan were conducted in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2021 under the policy directives issued by the federal government. Consequently, a paired spectrum of 30MHz in 1900/2100 MHz band, 29MHz in 1800MHz band and 10MHz in 850MHz band was auctioned and assigned to the cellular mobile operators.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2022

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