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ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has decided to review the Wireless Local Loop (WLL) regime in Pakistan as its subscriber base is on a constant decline.

By the end of July 2020, the total number of broadband subscribers in Pakistan was around 83 million, and mobile broadband subscription stood at 81 million. The presence of non-cellular operators in general and WLL operators in particular is negligible in comparison with cellular operators.

The frequency assignments will expire in 2024, and there is a need to have clarity on future of WLL regime, so as to allow WLLOs ample time to prepare their business plans, documents revealed. The WLL regime was introduced in Pakistan in 2004 in accordance with the De-Regulation Policy 2003 with spectrum assignments in 450MHz, 479MHz, 1900MHz, and 3.5GHz bands.

The WLL licenses were distinguished from mobile cellular licenses through geographical and mobility restriction; regional licenses with single cell mobility.

A total of 93 WLL licenses were issued to 18 companies in 2004 for various regions of Pakistan in frequency bands of 450, 479, 1900 and 3500MHz.

Some of the operators failed to complete initial mandatory roll-out obligations, despite grant of extension in timelines, and hence their respective licenses were cancelled/ terminated. The PTCL, Telecard and WorldCall had a combined subscriber base of around 2.4 million in 2008-2009, which kept on improving till 2012-2013. Wi-Tribe, Wateen and Sharp also made some impact during this time frame.

However, since 2012-2013, there has been a constant decline due to extensive roll out by the mobile operators.

Some of the operators have multiple frequencies assignment in their licensed regions.

Now even with termination of licenses and Telecard becoming FLL operator, there are still 10 operators with 80 licenses. However, the subscriber base is on a constant decline.

Since the introduction of WLL regime in Pakistan in 2004, there have been enormous technological developments aimed at efficient utilisation of the scarce resource i.e. frequency spectrum.

Some of the spectrum bands assigned to WLL operators have already been identified for higher-value mobile broadband services such as 2100/1900MHz and also for 5G i.e. 3.5GHz.

The most important being 3.5GHz band, wherein, 5G network is deployed in many countries.

In Pakistan as well, the MoIT&T has issued policy directive for "Test and Development of Future Technologies Particularly for Fifth Generation (5G) Wireless Networks in Pakistan", wherein spectrum in 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz has been identified.

The PTA accordingly published a Framework for Test and Development of Future Technologies Particularly for Fifth Generation (5G) Wireless Networks in Pakistan, in line with GoP Policy Directive. CMPak (Zong), PMCL (Jazz) and Telenor have conducted 5G trials in 2.6 GHz and 3.5 GHz spectrum while PTCL & Ufone joint trial is under process.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020