Pakistani operator Warid Telecom has pledged a network investment of $470 million across the next 5 years aimed at upgrading its current 2.5G network to 4G.
The investment represents a new commitment from the operator’s owner, the privately-held Abu Dhabi Group, after it abandoned attempts to sell the Pakistani unit. Etisalat-controlled Pakistani Telecom (PTCL) lodged a bid for Warid in December last year but the move did not prompt rival bids as expected and the two operators dropped the deal after failing to agree on a price.
Commenting on the five-year investment – which began at the start of the operator’s financial year in July - Warid’s CFO Tariq Gulzar said: “Over the last 2-3 years, when we were going through the M&A process, we were a little dormant, we were holding back on those investments which we’re now going through.”
Warid declined to bid in Pakistan’s recent round of auctions for 3G and 4G spectrum, with Gulzar claiming: “Warid always had enough spectrum available to launch 4G/LTE service.”
The operator can technically launch services do this as its licence is technology-neutral, but it does not have a service-neutral licence so it will require approval from regulator PTA (Pakistani Telecommunication Authority) before it can begin offering commercial 4G services.
It may also face objections from its rivals Mobilink, China Mobile, PTCL and Telenor. The four operators collectively paid over $1 billion in the recent spectrum auctions and are unlikely to tolerate Warid offering 4G services without paying such a fee.
In a recent statement the operator confirmed that it would deploy its 4G network using equipment from Ericsson. Warid has commenced internal tests for network capacity and service reliability and will begin public trials once these are complete. It has also begun delivery LTE-ready SIMs free of charge to subscribers with LTE-capable devices.
Gulzar undercut this official announcement by claiming that the deployment was at a more advanced stage. He stated that the 4G is currently being tested in several major cities and a commercial launch will commence in the next few weeks.