Bahrain regulator delays mobile bid deadline to '09

Bahrain's wealth fund also looking to sell down stakes in companies, including Batelco.

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By  Frederik Richter Published  November 25, 2008

Bahrain's telecoms watchdog extended the deadline to submit bids for the country's third mobile licence to Jan. 11, 2009 at the request of interested companies, an official said on Tuesday.

Rob Middlehurst, director of market and competition at the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) said registered parties have asked for more time to work out their bids.

"Under the current economic conditions, TRA would like to give them ample time to pull together the right organization and consortium where necessary", he told newswire Reuters.

Separately, Bahrain's $10 billion Mumtalakat wealth fund wants to diversify its assets by selling down the stakes it owns in Bahrain-based companies, including Bahrain Telecommunications Company (Batelco).

Taking a stake in Batelco would also be a way to enter the Bahrain mobile market and local media reports have speculated that bidders want more time to first see the outcome of Mumtalakat's sale.

"The Mumtalakat process runs its own course, the two processes are well isolated", Middlehurst said, adding the bidding regulations rule out a firm winning both the third license and taking a stake in Batelco.
 
TRA had postponed the initial Nov. 13 deadline to Nov 30. in response to an earlier request for more time from companies registered for the bid.
 
Four unindentified companies are registered to bid for the third mobile licence in Bahrain, the smallest Gulf Arab economy of about 1.05 million people and a mobile penetration rate of over 100 percent as of end-2007.

A new mobile operator would compete with Batelco and Zain, a unit of Kuwait's Mobile Telecommunications Co. (Reuters)

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