Pakistan has a considerable geographic spread and a populous rural footprint. If cellular services are to be taken forward, better, practically working coverage is required. Pakistani cellular operators understand this and are trying different strategies to cope with the challenge.
Back in 2002, Paktel and Instaphone entered into an infrastructure sharing agreement that allowed both the operators to use single civil facilities for putting up their cell sites. Ufone was a government owned concern so they had little incentive to move in any such direction. Mobilink was a GSM entity and was (at that time), the odd-man out from this alliance.
When Warid and Telenor entered Pakistani market, each had deep pockets filled with forex and lack of local industry trends and social domain information. They went ahead with building their own infrastructure initially.
Fast forward to mid 2007 and everyone now knows about Pakistan, its territory, politics and social landscape. Mobilink has emerged as a giant and the rest of the players are desperate enough to forge infrastructure level friendship!
First, Telenor and Ufone sign an MoU (and incorrectly call it ‘the first of its kind’, forgetting the Instaphone/Paktel deal on same lines way back in 2001~2002) to share their infrastructures.
Now Warid is reportedly joining the duo to form a troika which is very obviously set against Mobilink’s impressive coverage of 5,000 towns/locations across Pakistan. From the Daily Times’ report:
Currently Mobilink is covering over 5,000 cities and towns with over 6,000 sites, Ufone is working in over 750 cities and towns with 1,108 sites, Telenor is operating in over 1,100 cities and towns with 2,900 sites, Warid is active in over 210 cities with 1,200 sites and Paktel working in 218 cities with 893 sites. These all operators cover 70 percent of the population with 35 percent geographically. The MoU is the first of its kind between the two leading mobile phone operators in Pakistan. This is a welcome initiative for the industry, as it will help reduce costs of companies in developing separate sites for their networks.
Paktel has a different strategy for itself. With supposedly cash flow issues resolved, thanks to its China Mobile acquisition, the Paktel management is asking its employees to be part of the network in more than once sense. An email circulated to the employees to this effect states:
You are all aware that with a view of Network expansion, CMPak has awarded contracts to various vendors for establishing ‘Base Stations’. Consequently, we would be establishing sites throughout the country. To make the employees as partners, the Management encourages their participation in site acquisition process. If any of the friends / acquaintances is willing ‘To Let’ property (on rental basis to CMPak) for establishing the sites, employees are encouraged to forward details of such property.
Management is pleased to announce that if any of the sites (referred by the employees) is judged as ‘Prime Site’, the referring employee will be offered ‘Special Reward’ by the vendor. However employees are strictly forbidden to contact technical staff i.e O & M and Roll out Teams.
The MoUs might be a sad news for aspiring three-storied house owners each of whom had been wishing to generate an additional income of around Rs 40,000 ~ 50,000 per month by renting out her rooftop for the cell site (and, in some cases, enjoying free generator-based electricity during the frequent power outages in some cases!) . However, this should bring a sigh of relief to concerned citizens about the deteriorating cities’ landscapes which, now across Pakistan, are littered with such towers with zero efforts made toward any possible camouflaging of the same.