Taking a breather

The quieter summer months have afforded the telecoms sector in the region a little breathing space given the breakneck pace of developments over the last 12 months. It’s a lull that is not set to extend too much longer given moves to offer permanent licences in Iraq before the end of the year and talk of the offer of a third GSM licence in Saudi Arabia later in the year as well.

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By  Tawanda Chihota Published  August 23, 2006

|~||~||~|I am not a huge fan of conferences for conferences’ sake, but in September a number of events are taking place that are set to be of genuine interest, and be significant in helping gain a better view of some of the key developments taking place in the region. Parties interested in Iraq’s telecoms sector will be descending on London at the beginning of September to listen to presentations from government officials, service operator representatives and third-party analysts and consultants, regarding the risks and opportunities involved in conducting business in the country. Security concerns are likely to be high on the agenda of topics, as is the exact status of the process to award long-term licences in the country. Iraq’s three provisional licences have already been extended twice this year, and are now set to expire at the end of September. Talk is that four concessions will be awarded, with the three incumbent operators – MTC-Atheer, Iraqna and Asiacell – well placed to have their provisional licences made permanent, should they choose to apply. There is every indication that they will. The fourth licence is an interesting case. The government is reported to have stated that a completely new licence would be granted, in which the state would have a stake. However, a competent strategic investor would also be desired, and it will be interesting to see what type of organisation will be willing to partner with the government in such an arrangement. Regional operators including MTC, Etisalat and Qtel have all expressed an interest in principle in gaining access to the Iraq telecoms market, though the express terms and conditions of the award are likely to colour potential bidders’ initial appraisal of the opportunity. The timing of the award process in Iraq and the requirement to add a new player to the market at this point is a curious one given all the things taking place in that market. In the two-and-half years that the three incumbents have been operational, they have successfully extended coverage to over 7 million mobile subscribers, and have gained invaluable experience of coping in a hostile environment. It would appear to make more sense to permit them to utilise their financial and commercial competence to continue along this path, rather than upset the applecart with the introduction of new competition. Competition that is part owned by the government at that. A second valuable conference taking place is set to be held in Dubai in the middle of September, and will bring together all the leading operators and suppliers from across the region under one roof at the Dubai International Convention Centre. Business strategy, new technologies, growth trends, and case studies are all set to be a part of the agenda. It also affords the industry an opportunity to network and exchange views and experiences, a welcome chance to do exactly that given the tumultuous times currently being experienced. ||**||

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