In the world of telecommunications, new technologies usually come one generation at a time – not so in Pakistan. Despite all the pessimism and grievances associated with the late coming of 3G to Pakistan (which I argued was a good thing considering the readiness of Pakistan’s 3G ecosystem in the March-April 2012 issue (3G too soon?) we have ended up not with 3G, but 4G as well – and all in one go.
The April 2014 Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) auctions of new generation technologies resulted in the award of four 3G licenses and one 4G license to Zong. As many readers and mobile subscribers may have noticed, Zong did not waste any time in championing its position as being Pakistan’s first 4G network license holder via bold print ads the following morning.
Although Dr Fan Yunjun, CEO, China Mobile, made it clear in his post-auction press conference that Zong would not be able to roll out live 4G services for at least a year due to the infrastructure procurement and set-up lead times, recent billboards by Zong have not shied away from enticing future Zong users with the ‘fantastic’ speeds that their 4G network will bring; namely 42 MB and 150 MB. However, despite the fact that Zong has delivered some excellent advertising in the past (20 second billing, Z20 package offer, Paise denge daddy and Moji ban gaya babu among others), this time it is disturbing to see them being so disingenuous.
This kind of advertising of ‘theoretical’ mobile bandwidth speeds is hugely misleading because in practice on-ground speeds between 15 and 20 MB are more likely, keeping in mind the number of subscribers, mobile data volume demand and signal strength obtained in any given base station area. However it is not uncommon for telecom companies to mislead the public with respect to mobile data download speeds as we have seen this happen a number of times in the US and UK, where new generation license auctions were followed by rapacious advertising by telecom companies. The UK regulator Ofcom has been very firm in penalising telecom companies in this regard and the PTA should give Zong a strong rap on the knuckles for advertising so-called ‘ideal’ mobile data download speeds that can never be achieved in real operational conditions.
The post-auction advertising brought with it an unexpected revelation as well – highly visible (and in my view, eloquent) print ads about the launch of 4G services by the one company which did not participate in the auction – Warid. Quite apart from the obvious jolt this would have given Zong, the buzz generated in the market in general and with existing Warid customers in particular, was undeniable.
The immediate question raised was how is this possible? Credit to the technical advisors who recommended that Warid could legally and practically use its unused (and available) spectrum of approximately 8.8 MHz gained in the 2004 auction. Since Warid currently has the lowest customer base (approximately 13 million in April 2014 as per the PTA), this could actually work in its favour when it comes to delivering quality of service and dependable mobile broadband bandwidth. Warid already has the highest ARPU generating post-paid base among all telecom companies and in my view, is ideally placed to grow a niche conversion market of this user base to 4G. Warid recently celebrated its ninth anniversary of operations in Pakistan by test-launching 4G services within the premises of its Lahore office; a quiet yet unwavering testament to the fact that when it comes to 4G, first off it may be Warid that we will see.
Yasmin Malik is associated with the UK’s Informa Telecoms & Media.