Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has published “Rolling Spectrum Strategy 2020-2023”, observing that C-band (3.6 – 4.2 GHz) is a core spectrum band for 5G deployment and recommended for a cost-benefit analysis to assess the optimum approach for its release for 5G.
The strategy stated that many national regulators globally have either assigned this spectrum for mobile or have started preparations to do so. PTA/FAB/MoIT, in consultation with SUPARCO, should carry out a cost-benefit analysis to assess the optimum approach for the release of C-band for 5G.
The Allocation of C-Band for 5G
It should include the cost of implementing coexistence measures or a band clearance. In some cases, a hybrid of the two approaches may be appropriate. For example, in its plans for releasing the 3575-3700 MHz band, the Australian regulator ACMA decided to clear existing FSS and FS users in metro and regional areas over a transition period of up to seven years while specifying coexistence measures to protect incumbent users during this period.
It further stated that the 2500MHz offers 190MHz of bandwidth (2500 – 2690 MHz) and it is allocated in many countries for mobile services. This band should be a high priority after the 1800MHz has been fully assigned. This band is now being used in many countries for LTE systems, and often being aggregated with other bands to deliver faster LTE speeds. This is crucial for mobile operators in Pakistan. Mobile Operators have also applied with PTA/FAB to conduct 5G trials in this band.
The strategy recommended not to put in place a fixed spectrum cap defined in MHz but operator with a higher than 35 percent/40 percent of all mobile spectrum be barred from an impending auction. PTA/FAB can consider using a percentage share of the overall mobile spectrum as a guide to decide if further evaluation needs to be performed. Since there are four mobile operators in Pakistan, it is recommended that PTA/FAB consider 35 percent or 40 percent a reference point.
PTA/FAB should, in conjunction with the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP), ascertain if an operator acquiring spectrum (whether through a merger or through an upcoming auction) will have an unfair advantage over small competitors. The evaluation will take into account the operator’s share of subscribers as well as the opportunity for other operators to acquire spectrum through an upcoming auction. MoIT&T/PTA/FAB may take a stance that the operator with a higher than 35 percent/40 percent of all mobile spectrum to be barred from an impending auction.
Spectrum Master Plan
The Spectrum Master Plan provides a future roadmap for spectrum allocation as well as spectrum-related policy reviews that are anticipated to take place between 2020 and 2023.
The strategy revealed that there is a high chance that devices will hit critical mass before 2020 and recommended that the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication/PTA/FAB aim to allocate the band for auction. This band is also crucial for Pakistan operators to extend the coverage to rural areas since it has better propagation characteristics.
The report revealed that PTA/FAB is considering implementing an AIP-based spectrum pricing framework to replace the current ASAF. As part of the spectrum pricing review, PTA/FAB has already submitted the revised ACR fee levels for principle approval by the government of Pakistan for implementation. It will be applied to services where auctions and AIP are not implemented.
The strategy has recommended that the current charging regime based on ASAF may continue till the time a market-based pricing formula for the back-haul spectrum is in place. ASAF is the administrative cost for managing access and backhaul spectrums used by mobile operators pursuant to cellular policy 2004. It may be decoupled i.e. separate regimes to be introduced for Access Spectrum Annual Administration Fees and Microwave Backhaul Spectrum (Administrative Incentive Pricing) regime. AIP and revised ASAF regimes will be implemented once finalized.
PTA/FAB needs to work for rationalization of the spectrum so that Mobile operators can be provided with standard spectrum blocks. Some operators have started to shut down 2G systems in some countries whilst 2G will continue to be in use in many places including Pakistan, it will also start to phase out in a few years as mobile operators try to promote smartphones to earn revenue from data services. It is, therefore, useful to consider the long-term use of this band and divide the band into separate lots of 2x 5MHz.
Globally, the 1800 MHz is one of the most popular spectrum bands for mobile communications. The band is now used to deploy LTE by several operators around the world. PTA/ FAB has also received requests for additional spectrum assignments in this band. With widespread global adoption, equipment is readily available and this band is deemed valuable to mobile operators, particularly for the deployment of LTE. PTA/FAB should plan a transparent and effective methodology for the assignment of a vacant portion of this band.
Automation of the Licensing Process
The strategy recommended that MoIT&T and PTA should urgently look at automating the licensing process. This should include automating the invoicing of licenses. If PTA intends to develop a system in–house, they should still evaluate the SMS4DC to determine the key parameters and requirements for a comprehensive platform.
Once the system is in operation, the next phase could include integration with an online application portal and/or continued reconciliation of distributed records between FAB and PTA. In order to implement the light licensing regime for unlicensed Spectrum (UWB, Wi-Fi, IoT, SRD, etc), an online system also needs to be deployed by PTA/FAB.
Another web-based system similar to TOWAIR developed by FAA/FCC in the USA needs to be deployed by CAA/PTA/FAB for expediting the site clearance process in the vicinity of airports. BTS approval process needs to be made online as well in order to shorten time consumed by FAB Board Members in decision making.