Wataniya phone deal could boost Palestinian funds

Wataniya claims "one of the most significant foreign investments" in Palestinian history.

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By  Reuters Published  July 29, 2008

Kuwait's National Mobile Telecommunications Co. (Wataniya) said on Tuesday it had received frequencies in the Palestinian territories, a deal that could boost the Palestinian Authority's coffers.

Wataniya Palestine Mobile Telecommunications Company (WPT), now controlled by Qatar Telecommunications Co., said in a statement the deal would provide for "a staged release" of frequencies over the several months to enable the commercial launch of the mobile network.

The deal could bring Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's cash-strapped government hundreds of millions of dollars in licensing fees and tax revenues, Palestinian officials said.

It was unclear how soon the Palestinian Authority would benefit financially from the WPT deal. The Authority is facing a growing budget crisis because many Arab donors have not met their aid pledges.

"We hope that the company will start its operations no later than the beginning of next year," Suleiman Al-Zuheiri, deputy minister of communication, said on Tuesday.

The head of the Palestine Investment Fund, which owns 30 percent of Wataniya's local business, said in May the group would receive 4.8 megahertz, enough to serve 1 million subscribers in the Palestinian territories, home to some 4 million people.

The sole Palestinian mobile firm, Jawwal, has about 1 million subscribers.
The chairman of Qtel and Wataniya, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani said the deal marked "one of the most significant foreign investments" in the history of Palestinian territories.

WPT has said it will eventually build a high-speed third generation (3G) network, which could give thousands more Palestinians access to the Internet, and that the Palestinian Authority was in talks with Israel to secure 3G frequencies.

Wataniya Telecom, the smaller of two mobile phone firms in Kuwait, has operations in Iraq, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and the Maldives.

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