WIRELESS PHONE INTRODUCTION

By AZAM ALI
Jan 31 - Feb 06, 2005

Wireless Phone Service has been finally introduced by private company under the title of GO CDMA in entire country including major business cities like Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. The major cities are the best target for wireless phone due to bad infrastructure and outdated cable network of PTCL. Major cities have been left open for private sector, as PTCL has delayed introduction of its wireless phone service in Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore.

Operators of wireless local loop (WLL) say that there is a market for an additional 10-15 million lines in the next five years. Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) and GO CDMA of Telecard were in a race to grab more customers. Two new players are expected to enter the market in the next six months. While the WLL has limited mobility, its technology coupled with cheap call costs may pose a serious challenge for existing mobile phone operators and land line companies.

Telecard Limited, chief executive officer, Fazal Hussain said his company would be adding the bulk of WLL lines in the first two years. He forecast around two million lines during this period. The company intends to invest over $300 million in WLL, LDI and its corporate network service in the next five years. "As many as 1,000 jobs are expected to be created in the next year in the process of business expansion with rapid pace, thus taking the total to 1,500 jobs," he said. He said the WLL service was being launched in 185 stations of the country, as against 85 places being offered by its competitors, both in urban and rural locations. The company has acquired frequency in all 14 telecommunication regions of Pakistan. Hussain said that telecom revolution had started in Pakistan and this year the government would take tentative steps in moving into the information age in order to achieve a rapid progress in this sector.

PTCL has also started its WLL services. At present PTCL is operating on 450 MHz. This is part of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz's directive to provide 250,000 lines in rural areas, while Telecard is operating on 1,900 MHz frequency.

Senior executive vice-president, corporate affairs, PTCL, said that the company was aggressively investing in the WLL segment in order to increase its subscriber base and become a leading player in the coming years. Without quoting the actual investment in the WLL, he said a major chunk of overall investment by PTCL was going in the WLL segment. A senior PTCL official said that PTCL, which had initially decided to introduce WLL in rural areas, had also planned to provide WLL connection in urban areas. However surprisingly PTCL has delayed the launching of WLL in major cities. Currently, a survey is being conducted in Karachi to ascertain the area situation where the facility will be provided.

"I cannot say as to how many phone lines will be given to Karachi, but efforts are underway to provide the WLL service in January," the official said, adding that PTCL has planned to give two million wireless connections in both rural and urban areas by June 2005. The range of wireless phone for city areas will be from two to six km, while in rural areas it will be within the range of 20km. "The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has already fixed the range for wireless connection from four to five km in the city area."

The WLL in simple words means connecting subscriber's phones in homes and offices with a limited mobility at less than landline prices. WLL operators claim that it is now time to say good-bye to linemen and hassle of wires all over the place. The WLL will also provide SMS and Internet access.

While inaugurating ceremony of the WLL system launched by the PTCL in Sukkur last month, the Prime Minister claimed that the government had not only taken the country at par with the developed countries by introducing deregulatory policy in the telecommunication sector but it had strengthened the economy. He said reforms chalked out by the government to pull out the country from economic derailment, were being carried out according to the time frame. He disclosed that licences issued to mobile phones companies in the past based on the personal relations which caused loss to the country. He said his government ended favouritism and issuing licences to mobile phone companies through open auctions.

He said the present government had earned $290 million from two mobile companies. He said the government had given a target to the minister of IT, Awais Leghari to form broadband policy for telecommunication, information technology and computerization and spread its network to the rural areas so that new generation could benefit from it.

The federal minister for IT, Awais Leghari, said so far 20,000 villages had been provided with the WLL facility while within next few weeks the facility will be extended to 50,000 villages. He said after the completion of the WLL, the phone coverage in Pakistan, which at present was 30 per cent, would be increased upto 100 per cent. He said facilities were being provided to the private companies according to the deregulation policy and 800,000 mobile connections had been provided as yet. Besides, the PTCL was also in competition with these companies and within next few months this number would become three-fold.