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Expected 3g/4g auctions – what does it mean for mobile communication?

Published on 14th Apr, Edition 15, 2014


A major change in the cellular market is the upcoming 3G/4G auctions which under the directives of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) expected to be introduced in the country in the 3rd week of this month. These auctions will bring in US$1.3 billion in investments. The auctions are expected to give Pakistan a jump in mobile communication services, which have long been part of more developed markets.

The auctions will open doors to new mobile phone subscribers and buyers and have been seen as a positive initiative. In an era where 5G technology will be available in few years, Pakistan reaching 4G will put the country on a platform providing superior services, which includes data and communication quality at par with more advance economies. When it comes to the letter ‘G’, it simply stands for generation when the technology has become available. 1G and 2G technology was developed in the early 1980s and onward upto late 1990s. 3G and 4G for which auctions are scheduled are also standards for mobile communication. Standards specify how the airwaves must be used for transmitting information i.e. voice and data. 3G was launched in Japan in 2001. As recently as mid-2010, the networks for most wireless carriers in the US were 3G. 3G networks were a significant improvement over 2G networks, offering higher speeds for data transfer while with 4G technology developed in 2010, one could watch high definition television simply through the phone.

Since Pakistan is about to embark on the 3G/4G platform, it is important to understand what is the underlining difference between the two. 3G provides speed of 3.1Mbps with an average speed range between 0.5 to 1.5 Mbps. 4G provides 2Mbps to 12 Mbps (Telstra in Australia claims up to 40 Mbps) but estimated range between 100 to 300 Mbps. Peak upload rate in 3G is 5Mbps whereas the same rate in 4G is 500Mbps. Peak download rate is 100Mbps for 3G whereas the same rate for 4G is 1Gbps. Switching technique for 3G is packet switching whereas 4G is packet switching and message switching. The frequency band for 3G is 1.8 to 2.5 GHz whereas 4G is 2 to 8 GHz.

Long Term Evolution (LTE) standard for the 4G system: Since development in 2010, major mobile networks around the world are adopting the technology to take advantage of speed to market. Since start of 2014, 14 countries have started trials and/or have adopted the technology. On April 1, 2014, Etisalat commenced LTE trials with Alcatel-Lucent in Abu Dhabi with many other players in Europe and Far East working on fast track basis to adopt the technology for better services. NTT DoCoMo Japan was the first company to announced the completion of a 4G trial where it achieved a maximum packet transmission rate of approximately 5 Gbit/s in the downlink using 12 transmit and 12 receive antennas and 100 MHz frequency bandwidth to a mobile station moving at 10 km/h.

5G denotes the next major phase of mobile telecommunications standards beyond the current 4G standards. 5G is also referred to as beyond 2020 mobile communications technologies. 5G does not describe any particular specification in any official document published by any telecommunication standardization body. Although updated standards that define capabilities beyond those defined in the current 4G standards are under consideration, those new capabilities are still being grouped under the current 4G standards.

Based on the above observations, some sources suggest that a new generation of 5G standards may be introduced approximately in the early 2020s. However, still no international 5G development projects have officially been launched, and there is still a large extent of debate on what 5G is exactly about. Prior to 2012, some industry representatives have expressed skepticism towards 5G but later took a positive stand. New mobile generations are typically assigned new frequency bands and wider spectral bandwidth per frequency channel (1G up to 30 kHz, 2G up to 200 kHz, 3G up to 20 MHz, and 4G up to 100 MHz), but skeptics argue that there is little room for larger channel bandwidths and new frequency bands suitable for land-mobile radio.

In 2008, the South Korean IT R&D program of “5G mobile communication systems based on beam-division multiple access and relays with group cooperation” was formed. Major difference from a user point of view between 4G and 5G techniques must be something else than increased peak bit rate; for example higher number of simultaneously connected devices, higher system spectral efficiency (data volume per area unit), lower battery consumption, lower outage probability (better coverage), high bit rates in larger portions of the coverage area, lower latencies, higher number of supported devices, lower infrastructure deployment costs, higher versatility and scalability or higher reliability of communications. Those are the objectives in several of the research papers and projects below. Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner, committed in 2013 for 50 million euros for research to deliver 5G mobile technology by 2020. The overall technical goal is to provide a system concept that supports 1,000 times higher mobile system spectral efficiency as compared with current LTE deployments. In addition, in 2013 another project has started, called 5GrEEn for designing of Green 5G Mobile networks. Here the goal is to develop guidelines for the definition of new generation network with particular care of energy efficiency, sustainability and affordability aspects.

Pakistan with high mobile penetration and of fast moving market will provide lucrative returns for investors. Faster speeds and communication technology being adopted by any one of the players first, be it 3G or 4G will immediately give the speed to market advantage to increase market share manifold. The auctions are expected to being about positive results for the economy and inflow of dollars, which will keep the rupee stronger. The only challenge seems the conversion and execution of licenses for the induction of the technology, which is expected to take time. However, competition is expected to bring execution fast to provide win-win situation for mobile sellers, mobile service providers and most of all the customers.


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