The long-awaited auction has finally borne some results. 4 licenses of 3G networks, and one 4G license have been sold. The $1.1 billion generated is close to the government’s initial estimate of $1.2 billion in the year’s budget, which was close to the base price set before the auction. The amount generated is only 1.6% more than what it cost the government to obtain these licenses. Ishaq Dar’s more optimistic target of $2 billion seems to have been misguided. Perhaps the revenue generated could be higher but as it remains, with Pakistan having one of the lowest average revenues per user (about $2 a month), it was unlikely that foreign players would have wanted to enter the market. And so, as it occurred, each company was virtually unchallenged while bidding on the licenses they favoured. The excess license of 4G could have also had a potential buyer in this auction, instead of waiting for a more ‘suitable’ time later.

But the successful sale of the licenses does not mean that the work is done. The government was quick to congratulate itself on making a quick buck, giving the people high-speed internet, facilitating close to a million jobs for the future and bringing a new industry into the country all in one swift stroke. But now that the first phase is over, the logistical questions must be addressed. For starters, to make 3G networks more profitable, more consumers that use mobile internet must be brought into the fold, alongside the long-term process of making 3G accessible in the rural areas of the country. In addition to this, the government also needs to ensure that tariff rates do not jump sky-high as a result of new services, which would be counterproductive to the task of making 3G accessible to the masses. With the telecom companies that won bids already releasing their pre-prepared 3G and 4G adverts, it seems likely that they will be looking to recuperate the money spent on buying the licenses, which would mean the customers might be paying the brunt of the cost, unless the government intervenes. Lastly, the industry that was promised with the advent of new networks must also be encouraged through making e-commerce a bigger part of our economy. This is an exciting time for internet users in Pakistan; let us hope the next phase is dealt with intelligently and cost-effectively.