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Tunisia opens bidding for new mobile licence

The Tunisian government has set a May 5th deadline for potential operators of a second GSM network to submit tenders. Bidders must meet strict financial criteria before they will be considered.

Tunisia could have a new mobile operator by the end of the year after the government opened a tender for the second GSM licence.

Potential bidders have until 12:00 GMT on May 5th to submit their proposals. In order to qualify, they must be either “a single independent firm, characterised as a qualified operator or a firm, whose shareholders include one or two qualified operators; or a consortium including one qualified operator at least, or a maximum of two,” according to the communications ministry.

The ‘qualified operator’ must be the direct or indirect owner, for at least the last two years, of a minimum of 51 percent of a telecoms licence with a least half a million cellular subscribers.

Any companies leading a consortium should have net assets worth more than US $400 million, or market capitalisation of at least $2 billion.

By setting the standards for bidders so high, it seems that the Tunisian government is looking for bidders from outside the region.

Portugal Telecom declared an interest in the licence earlier this month, saying it would form a consortium with Spanish operator Telefonica. The two worked together two years ago to scoop the second Moroccan GSM licence, in a $1 billion deal backed by BMCE Bank and the Afriquia Group.

At present the only GSM licence in the country is held by state-owned PTT monopoly Tunisia Telecom. Launched five years ago, it can handle up to 50,000 subscribers.

A $74 million expansion plan is on schedule to be finished by December, which will add capacity for up to 300,000 further users.

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