Pakistan’s smallest cellco Paktel has reached an agreement with the regulator, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), over the launch of GSM services; the PTA has given the cellco permission to roll out its GSM network, subject to a payment of USD11.1 million. It has pledged to launch services within ‘the next couple of days’.
The decision follows an ongoing dispute between the two companies over the launch of GSM services. Paktel was awarded its GSM-900 licence in February 2003, which enabled it to begin migrating its network from analogue to digital, and in October 2003 it was awarded additional spectrum by the country’s Frequency Allocation Board. The operator was initially given the licence free of charge, but when the PTA awarded two new cellular concessions for USD291 million in April 2004 it announced that the existing operators would also have to pay the same amount in instalments. In August 2004 Paktel filed a lawsuit against the PTA, refusing to pay the first instalment of USD38.8 million and claiming that the regulator had no right to demand the payment. Its appeal, however, was thrown out by the High Court in Lahore just days later.
There are currently four operational mobile operators in the country – Pakcom, Paktel, Mobilink and U-Fone – although two new operators – Norway’s Telenor and UAE-based Warid Telecom – were awarded GSM licences in April 2004 but have yet to launch services. At the end of March 2004 there was a total of 4.06 million mobile subscribers, a penetration rate of 2.7%, up from 1.78 million and 1.3% at the end of 2002. Paktel launched AMPS services in 1991. It now provides services to 22 cities, including Islamabad, Radwalpindi, Lahore and Karachi.