Award processes threatened by spectrum shortages

Details regarding the award of Egypt's third licence were expected by the end of 2005, but were not forthcoming despite keen anticipation by prospective investors across the Arab world and beyond.

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By  Tawanda Chihota Published  January 8, 2006

The award of new GSM licences in Egypt and Palestine may be threatened by the absence of sufficient spectrum. Details regarding the award of Egypt's third licence were expected by the end of 2005, but were not forthcoming despite keen anticipation by prospective investors across the Arab world and beyond. The country's telecommunications regulatory authority maintains that a call to officially launch the award process is imminent, though sources have suggested that insufficient spectrum at 1800MHz has left the regulator in a bind. “The new operator was to be awarded 3G spectrum and an allocation of 1800MHz spectrum for 2G services, but there now appears that a problem has arisen regarding how much 2G spectrum there actually is to allocate to the new entrant,” an informed source told CommsMEA. Under an agreement first penned between Telecom Egypt, leading mobile operator MobiNil and Vodafone in late-2003, fixed incumbent Telecom Egypt agreed to pass on 1800MHz spectrum that was originally set aside for it to launch a GSM network of its own, to the two incumbent mobile operators in return for a fee and a minority stake in Vodafone Egypt. The TRA has said that Telecom Egypt will not be permitted to participate in the latest spectrum award, and that the incumbent mobile operators would also be awarded an allocation of 3G spectrum as well. Some commentators have suggested the delay in the mobile licensing process is merely a delay caused by the parliamentary elections. Meantime, late last year it was reported that the Palestinian Territory government was looking to release additional frequencies so that a second GSM operator could be licensed in the West Bank and Gaza to compete with Palestinian incumbent Jawwal. Despite being the only player officially licensed to operate in the Palestinian territories, Jawwal enjoys a market share of just 55% as it competes with services offered unofficially by four Israeli operators within Palestinian areas. “I think the idea of licensing a second GSM player in Palestine will just fall away,” a Ramallah-based source said.

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