Islamabad: The launch of the 5G spectrum in Pakistan in 10 months is nearly impossible. According to the scenario, due to economic uncertainty, the ongoing depreciation and constant devaluation of Pakistani currency against the dollar, and a lack of technology to support the 5G spectrum in the nation, local mobile operators are not ready to purchase 5G licenses.
The federal Ministry of IT and Telecommunication has also failed till now in bringing any 5G technology for the auctioning of licenses for the said spectrum. Umer Saifafter conducting a meeting with Pakistan Telecommunication Authority announced the launch of 5G in Pakistan within 10 months. The questions asked by various reporters from Umer Saif through WhatsApp were: “The local network operators are not ready to buy the licenses under current economic conditions. How will the authority compensate them? Will they auction for less money and if so, how will the authority then build infrastructure for 5G spectrum? How else will the government facilitate local networks for the 5G spectrum? Secondly, the Ministry of IT has not yet issued any policy for a 5G license auction to PTA. The procedure itself is lengthy and takes months or even a year or more to complete. How is it possible under these circumstances to launch 5G within 10 months? Please comment”.
A reputed source in Pakistan Telecommunication Authority revealed on condition not showing his name to the public and posted it anonymously that the launch of 5G may be nearly impossible within 10 months because the local mobile network operators are not ready to buy the licenses owing to multiple challenges. The Ministry of IT has yet to issue a 5G licensing strategy, and local network operators are not interested in investing in 5G spectrum licenses because the necessary technological infrastructure does not yet exist.
According to the source, “Before the auctioning of licenses for 5G spectrum, the ministry of IT first issues a policy to PTA under section 8, which then hires international consultants to analyze and suggest auctioning templates. “Nothing has started as of today”.Pakistan has already on a 30 MHz frequency of 5G for quite a long time, but the operators are not willing to buy. One of the mobile network operators claimed that even less than 5% of consumers may have access to devices that enable 5G spectrum. As less than 50% of consumers have mobile phones that handle the aforementioned frequency, one major operator informed that Pakistan is a country where the 3G/ 4G spectrum has not even reached the best level.
“What will 5G benefit us in these circumstances? How will we pay a huge amount of dollars for a 5G license when we earn minimal in rupees which is devaluing every passing day?”.
After Uganda, the lowest Average Revenue Per User (ARPU), which has fallen to $0.85, is in Pakistan. In local networks, under these circumstances, how can local operators spend millions or billions of dollars on 5G licenses when we barely make ends meet and at the same time, there is no infrastructure or technology in place to enable the 5G spectrum in the nation?
According to sources, due to higher tariffs and import restrictions, people lack the purchasing ability to purchase 5G-compatible smartphones. Local operators will need to upgrade their networking platforms for the subsequent introduction of 5G, which is now not possible due to import restrictions and the prohibition on LCs.
Aamir Hafeez Ibrahim who is CEO of Jazz Networks also expressed the same thoughts in his tweets and interviews. However, in Pakistan, it is not easy to do as there are many hurdles including taxation and teledensity.
From 2014 to 2017, the Pakistani government made approximately 1.8 billion USD through the auction of 3G/4G licenses to various mobile networks in Pakistan. In 2021, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) issued Ufone a 4G license. This license contained improved network rollout requirements and quality of service standards to protect the interests of customers.
Previously, Ufione had submitted a bid of $279 million for a 9MHz block in the 1800Mhz band, the sum of the revenues from the auction of the spectrum was $279 million. In the same year, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority granted new licenses to three popular cellular companies after winning spectrum in the first-ever cellular spectrum auction for Next Generation Mobile Services (NGMS) in Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJ&K) and Gilgit Baltistan (GB), which generated revenue to the tune of $30.322 million