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Bahrain, Jordan fixed wireless results

Umniah, MTC-Vodafone and Mena Telecom win concessions

Steps were taken last month toward further deregulation of Jordan and Bahrain’s fixed wireless markets, with the conclusion of licence tenders in both countries.

Umniah a subsidiary of Bahrain-based operator Batelco was awarded Jordan’s first 3.5GHz Fixed Broadband Wireless Access (FBWA) following a successful US$11.8 million bid.

“For the first time ever, Umniah will be able to bypass a third-party infrastructure and deliver true value and a quality of service direct to the consumer without any dependence on our competitor,” said Peter Kaliaropoulos, CEO of Batelco.

Kaliaropoulos has been adopting an aggressive expansion policy since coming to office in 2005. Batelco acquired a 96% stake in Umniah in July 2006 for US$415 million as a part of a three-year plan Batelco has to attract 30% of its revenue from overseas operations.

Batelco has since focused its Jordanian mobile services business through Umniah, while its second subsidiary in the country, Batelco Jordan, concentrates on offering fixed line access. Umniah has seen its prepaid subscriber base grow to 445,500 in 1Q06 a 34% increase from 4Q05, representing 14% share of the Jordanian prepaid mobile market. Batelco had expected to grow its total mobile customer base across all its operations by 120% by the end of 2006, providing services to over 1.2 million subscribers.

In September 2006 Kaliaropoulos told CommsMEA that following the acquisition of Umniah another, smaller investment was in the pipeline, in a significant market, articulating Batelco’s strategy to seek out investments related to broadband and mobility.

“We are not going to be paying the billions of dollars for a licence, we are looking for hundreds of millions or tens of millions opportunities to acquire companies in full, or controlling interests, so that work is continuing,” Kaliaropoulos stated.

“Our acquisition of the FBWA licence in Jordan is another milestone to achieving profitable growth. It gives us the ability to further extend superior service to six million people in Jordan and allows us to improve economies of scale in our mobile business,” Kaliaropoulos said.

In Bahrain, the country’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) also announced the two highest bidders of the National Fixed Wireless Services (NFWS) licence auction, which was held at the beginning of December. MTC-Vodafone Bahrain and Mena Telecom were identified as the two highest bidders and are set to be awarded the broadband licences after making bids of BD5.5 million (US$14.5 million) and BD4.5 million respectively.

“We will award the licences by January 8, 2007 in accordance with the rules of the auction and after completion of the post-evaluation obligations,” commented Mohammed J.K.

Alghatam, the acting general director of the TRA.

A total of six bidders out of nine met the qualification criteria for the Bahrain NFWS licence auction. They were: ATCO Clearwire Telecom, Bahrain Telecommunications Company, Etisalcom Wireless Co WLL, Mena Telecom WLL, MTCVodafone Bahrain and Reliance Communications Limited.

The short-listed bidders came after the end of an evaluation process of the business and financial status of each company and technical aspects of the bids by the TRA’s bid-evaluation team.

Both Bahrain and Jordan represent the most competitive markets in the MENA region.