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Iraq plans to award fourth telco license in Q1/2011

Up to 15 firms have expressed interest so far - official.

October 7, 2010 8:53 by

Iraq’s communications ministry aims to award a fourth mobile phone operator license in the first- quarter of 2011, a senior official said on Wednesday.

Farouq Abdul-Qadir Abdulrahman, minister of communication, told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Dubai that the new operator will provide “competitive rates” to existing operators, as the war-torn country focuses on improving telecom services.

Up to 15 firms including U.S.-based Verizon Communications , South Africa’s MTN , Turkcell , UAE’s Etisalat , France Telecom , and Vodafone had expressed an interest so far, he said.

The fourth firm, which would operate throughout Iraq, would partner with the Iraqi Telecommunications and Posts Co (ITPC), which already holds the fourth license and falls under the ministry of communications.

“We are looking for a partner to operate it (the license) for us … We said we will have a condition of taking a minimum of 30 percent of the revenue as we are going to provide the infrastructure, everything,” he added.

The mobile phone market, which did not exist in Iraq under the rule of Saddam Hussein, has boomed since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 that toppled him, with the total customer base of the main providers, Kuwait’s Mobile Telecommunications Co and AsiaCell, jumping to around 10 million consumers from 3 million in the past two years.

Zain and AsiaCell, along with third mobile phone firm Korek, which is based in Iraq’s Kurdish-run north, bought 15-year licences for $1.25 billion each in an auction in 2007.

The Iraqi government has strongly criticised their patchy coverage and imposed fines. Zain has rejected the criticism as unfair and blamed reception problems on military signal jamming.

Kassim al-Hassani, director general of ITPC, told reporters he expected the country’s telecoms sector to reach 90 percent penetration by the end of 2011 from 60 percent at present.

(Reporting by Tamara Walid, Editing by Dinesh Nair)

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