Later today Pakistan will auction two new 15-year nationwide mobile network operators licences as part of the government’s plan to encourage inward investment in the sector and expand the number of people using wireless services from 3.5 million to 15 million over a period of four years. The auction has attracted interest from 33 international and local telecoms firms, including MTC-Vodafone, backed by Kuwaiti firm Mobile Telecommunications Company and UK heavyweight Vodafone. However, Singapore Telecom, which was originally named as a potential bidder, has reportedly decided not to bid. Pakistan is currently served by four cellular operators – Mobilink, Ufone, Paktel and Instaphone – which between them claimed 3,559,747 subscribers at the end of 2003, giving a cellular penetration of 2.46%. However, given that Pakistan is home to more than 150 million people, the potential for growth is substantial. Analysts estimate that the cost for setting up a nationwide network will run in at about USD150 million: the country is hoping its new telecoms policy, agreed last month, will attract inward investment of over USD1.5 billion.