Saudi company opens the door for African mobile network

Cell-C, the Saudi-owned operator with the license to run South Africa's third mobile network has finally announced a deadline for infrastructure vendors.

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By  Alex Marklew Published  March 9, 2001

South Africa may finally get its long-awaited third mobile network, after a deadline was announced for infrastructure vendors to put in their bids.

The much-delayed network is expected to earn the winner up to US$600 million.

Manufacturers, expected to include Ericsson, Lucent, Motorola and Siemens, have until close of business on Monday (March 12th) to present their bids to Cell-C, the Saudi-owned operator that won the third license last February.

The original deadline passed nearly a year ago, but the license allocation has been wrapped up in legal difficulties for months after the operators who lost out said the winner was unable to meet financial obligations.

Cell-C is 60% owned by KSA contracting company Saudi-Oger, backed by US telco GTE. Rival bidders Nextcom and Khuluma wanted the license to be withdrawn after claiming that Cell-C’s plan to invest the required $600 million would leave it “technically insolvent.”

With the last legal hurdles cleared, the door is now open for Cell-C to enter the South African mobile market, currently eight million subscribers and growing rapidly.

Infrastructure bidders said that negotiations with Cell-C would probably start as soon as the bids are all in. Speed is important to the new operator if it is to hit its target of rolling out by the end of this year.

“Their targeted objective is before year end, so they need to award the contracts very shortly,” said Motorola’s Fred Coetzer.

“As a result, we expect to be at the negotiating table in due course. We’re talking in terms of a week or two.”

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