Pakistan plans to issue its first licences for third-generation (3G) mobile telecom services in October, hoping to generate nearly $1 billion through an open auction, government officials said on Thursday.
The fifth-largest cellular market in Asia -- behind China, India, Indonesia and Japan -- had more than 107 million mobile users in April, almost 65 per cent of all Pakistanis.
"A committee of the cabinet has agreed in principle to launch 3G services as soon as possible without any conditions," a senior official of the Ministry of Information Technology, which is handling the project, told Reuters.
The Economic Coordination Committee is expected to green-light the auction in the first week of August. The auctions are expected to be held in mid to late October, another official said.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as they are not authorised to speak to the media, said the number of licences to be issued would depend on the availability of 3G spectrum.
"For instance, if we have 30 Mhz, it could be three licences of 10 Mhz each. If we have 20 Mhz, then it will be two licences," one official said.
The official telecommunication authority, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), will advise the ministry of the available spectrum in August.
Pakistan's existing operators include Mobilink, a unit of Egypt-based Orascom Telecom, Norway's Telenor and Warid Telecom, a joint venture between Abu Dhabi Group and SingTel Group, according to the PTA website.
Mobilink leads the market by 32.96 million subscribers, followed by Telenor at 26.06 million, according to PTA data. Other operators include Zong of China Mobile Communication Corporation and Ufone, owned by the Emirates Telecommunication Corporation Group, Etisalat .
The officials did not say if the licences would be offered to the existing telecoms operators, or include others. A PTA official said it would probably be only for those already operating in Pakistan.