Pakistan’s incumbent fixed line operator, the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL), says it has embarked upon an ambitious project to roll out wireless in the loop (WiLL) services to remote parts of the country not presently covered by its traditional PSTN. In a press announcement yesterday, the telco said it had inked a USD500 million contract with Chinese equipment vendor Huawei Technologies for the deployment of more than 200,000 new telephone connections covering 127 cities, including Turbat, Pasni, Gwadar, Chagi; the rural areas of Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Central Punjab, Dera Ismail Khan, Kohat and Bannu division; and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). Despite its best efforts to boost teledensity in Pakistan – since June 2001 PTCL has installed around 1.19 million fixed lines and raised penetration to 2.9% – between 60% and 70% of the population in rural areas still have no access to telecoms services. The latest initiative, which uses a code direct multiplier access-based technology similar to a cellular phone system, is in line with government directives to provide access to telecoms services for more than half of the population in remote parts of the country by the end of 2004. Rolling out WiLL will cut down both the cost and timescale of deployment by a factor of between five and ten, with one 450MHz base station being capable of covering a radius of 25km, as opposed to the 5km threshold for traditional fixed line services. The Minister for Information Technology, Awais Ahmed Khan Leghari, has long expressed concern over the poor state of the PSTN, and attributed shortfalls to problems associated with cost and labour and the digital divide between the developed and developing world.