MTC Atheer gears up for expansion

Leading Iraqi mobile operator looks to strengthen its position in Iraq following securing of 15-year national licence.

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By  Michele Howe Published  August 20, 2007

Iraqi mobile operator MTC Atheer plans to enter the Kurdistan region as part of its expansion in Iraq under its new 15-year national operating licence, its general manager said today.

Speaking with, Ali Al Dahwi (pictured) said the operator, which is part of Kuwait's MTC Group, planned to accelerate the expansion of its network, particularly in the northern part of Iraq.

"A 15-year licence will give us further expansion capability and what we are going to do is strengthen our position in Iraq as a total including the Kurdistan region, which we are now guaranteed to enter. Previously, even though our licence is all Iraq, politically we weren't allowed to enter the region," he said.

MTC Atheer, the largest operator in Iraq in terms of subscriber numbers, began operating in Iraq in 2003 after being granted a licence to offer a mobile network in the southern region.

Like the other operators in the country, it lacked stability, however, under the temporary licence arrangement.

Al Dahwi said that the operator expected to enter Kurdistan some time next year.

Rival Korek Telecom, another of the winners of the three 15-year licences awarded last week, is based in the city of Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The third licence winner Asiacell, part of Kuwait's Wataniya Telecom, began operating in the Kurdish north of Iraq in 1999.

Commenting on the new competition in the market, Al Dahwi said: "I don't think any one of them is a light rival. When you pay such high amounts for a licence, you cannot be a light player in the market."

MTC currently leads the mobile market in Iraq with a 40% share and as of the end of June, 2007 had over 3.6 million customers.

Al Dahwi refused to comment on whether MTC Atheer would be interested in taking on the assets of Iraqna should its parent company Orascom Telecom opt to proceed with a sale.

"I'm not going to speculate on such events," he said, adding: "Right now we are concentrating on building our network and serving our subscribers."

Egypt's Orascom Telecom, which in a surprise move dropped out of the auction process, said earlier this week it was considering alternatives to monetise the assets of its Iraq subsidiary "including sale or joint venture".

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