Egypt will launch a tender for mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) licences within four weeks, the country's communications minister said Tuesday.
MVNOs are mobile phone service providers which lease excess network capacity from telecom operators.
Industry executives had been hoping the tender would take place last year, but major investment decisions have been delayed by the army-backed interim government appointed after the overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak.
Companies aiming to secure MVNO licences include Telecom Egypt, the country's landline monopoly, which is sitting on record amounts of cash and wants to boost its presence in fast-growing mobile and data services.
"We are finalising the format for the MVNO and hopefully we should expect (to issue the tender) in four weeks' time," Mohamed Salem, Minister of Communications and Information Technology, told Reuters during an industry conference in Qatar.
Salem said he was unsure how many MVNO licences Egypt would issue and declined to say how much selling them could raise for a government that is struggling to finance its budget deficit.
He said fourth-generation mobile network licences would also be sold some time after June, by which time the government would have formulated a new strategy for expanding broadband services.
"4G will be included in the broadband strategy," said Salem. "The broadband plan ... will be issued by the end of June."
Mobile phone subscriptions now roughly equal Egypt's population and companies are seeking to maintain revenue growth by encouraging customers to use more data services.
Egypt is the Arab world's most populous country, with more than 80 million people.
Telecom Egypt has a venture with Vodafone that vies with Mobinil for leadership of the mobile phone market. The third-placed operator is Etisalat Egypt.