Privatisation of Lebanon's mobile networks not likely till 2011, says Alfa CEO
Operators keen to enter the high ARPU market may have to wait for another year, according to the boss of one of the two mobile operators
Middle East operators keen to take a slice of the lucrative telecoms sector in Lebanon could have to wait for another year to enter the market, with the privatisation of the country's state-owned mobile operators unlikely to take place until 2011, according to the CEO of one of the country's two mobile firms.
The government started to privatise both telecom operators in 2007, but the process was shelved due to political divisions, and the CEO of Alfa, Samer Salameh, says that he thinks the government will not relinquish control of the operators for another 12 months.
"I think everyone is in agreement that there should be privatisation, whether complete or partial," Salameh told CommsMEA.
"What steps have to be taken to get there are not clear but I think the consensus is that it will not be in 2010; we will wait for 2011 or beyond, as we wait for the markets and the financial industry to come back. Now, even if we wanted to, I don't think the markets are ready for a privatisation."
Some of the region's biggest operators have expressed an interest in entering the high ARPU market, with UAE incumbent Etisalat recently restating its desire to establish a presence in the country.
At present, Lebanon's two mobile networks are managed on behalf of the government, with Kuwait's Zain managing market leader MTC Touch and Egypt's Orascom looking after Alfa.
Since their management contracts began in January 2009, Alfa and MTC Touch have added over 400,000 subscribers each following government initiatives to increase subscriber numbers, reduce tariffs and boost network coverage.
The management contracts for both operators are due to expire at the end of January 2010, and Salameh said Alfa has already had discussions with the Ministry of Telecoms about renewing the deal, and that it should find out "very soon" if it will continue to manage the network in 2010.
"To do what we have done in 10 months is an incredible achievement. We hope the government will acknowledge this and reward us with a new deal next year," he said.
"We want to be a player in the privatisation process when it happens, and in the meantime we are certainly interested in continuing to manage the operation."