Pakistan will this week begin the process of selling unused telecom spectrum in an auction it hopes will raise around $1 billion and enhance network capacity, said three senior government officials familiar with the matter.

The spectrum is in the 1800 and 2100 MHz bands typically used by operators for 4G LTE (long-term evolution) networks that offer faster video streaming and internet downloads, said the officials.

They asked not to be named as they were not authorised to discuss the matter with the media.

The country plans to kick-start the process by laying out plans to retain an international consulting firm that would design the auction process, and advise on base pricing and other details, they said, adding that no sale date has yet been set.

Pakistan is anxious to replenish state coffers that have been hit by a slump in the economy and in tax collections exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

A spokesman for Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said the process to hire a consultant for “Spectrum Auction 2020-21” has been initiated. He declined to give further details.

The country has some 85 million 3G/4G subscribers, and the upcoming auction is seen as a precursor to any 5G launch.

The Pakistan telecom market is dominated by Jazz, backed by Netherlands-based Veon Ltd; Telenor Pakistan, backed by Norway’s state-controlled Telenor; Zong, owned by China Mobile and Ufone, which is controlled by state-owned Pakistan Telecommunication Company Ltd.

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