Wataniya Palestine secures $85m in funding for mobile network

Investment to support next phase of network expansion before launch in second half of this year

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By  George Bevir Published  February 4, 2009

Palestine’s second mobile operator, Wataniya Palestine, has secured $85 million of syndicated finance to invest in its network infrastructure, before an anticipated second quarter launch of the network.

A statement on the Qatar stock exchange today said that the loan was agreed between Wataniya Palestine and the lender group comprised of the Bank of Palestine, Quds Bank, Commercial Bank of Palestine Limited, Ericsson Credit AB, International Finance Corporation, and Standard Bank.

“We’ve been working on it for a few months,” said Wataniya Palestine chief executive officer, Allan Richardson. “It shows the level of confidence in the country, and in the company.”

Richardson said that he expected the company to launch its service “in the first half of the year”,
“There are so many unknowns here that it is difficult to commit, but these are the facts of life that we have to deal with,” he added.

At present, some 700,000 subscribers are served by Palestine’s only official mobile operator, Jawwal, a division of incumbent operator PalTel, with an estimated 300,000 Palestinians using the services of Israeli operators whose signal ‘leaks’ over the border.

Richardson declined to reveal the share of the market Wataniya Palestine will target, but he said that a second operator would normally expect “up to 25% of the market”.
Wataniya Palestine, which was established in 2006, after QTel backed Wataniya submitted a $355 million bid for the country’s second 2G and 3G mobile licence, will cover the “majority” of the West Bank.

Extending coverage to Gaza, where rival Jawwal is present, is dependent on what Richardson described as government level negotiations.

Kuwait-based Wataniya is likely to go head-to-head with fellow Kuwaiti operator Zain, following last week’s announcement that incumbent operator PalTel is in advanced discussions with Zain over a deal that will see it take management control or ownership of the network.

Exportkreditnämden, the Swedish Export Credits Guarantee Board and GuarantCo, a specialist guarantor of infrastructure financing in low-income countries, are acting as guarantors to the Syndicated Facility. Standard Bank Plc is acting as a Global-Coordinator for the Facility.

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