A man speaks on his mobile phone (Reuters)
Egypt's telecom regulator, the National Telecom Regulatory Authority, said it may offer the fourth-generation (4G) service licences by international tender after the three local mobile operators - Vodafone Egypt, Orange Egypt, and Etisalat - declined to apply for it, MENA agency reported.
The deadline to acquire 4G service licences for the three companies currently offering mobile services, which was 12pm on Thursday, passed and none of the three local operators applied, MENA said citing a statement released by the NTRA.
Egypt's largest mobile operator, Vodafone, officially declined the 4G service licences in their current form set by NTRA in a statement on their website on Thursday.
"Vodafone Egypt’s Board of Directors regrets to say that it believes the current terms and conditions of the 4G license do not serve the interests of the Egyptian citizen and do not take into account the developmental dimension of the telecom sector in Egypt," the statement reads.
But Vodafone Egypt highlighted that it would be ready to buy a 4G licence "if the terms and conditions can be revised to encourage future investment in the development of Egypt’s mobile industry."
Orange, the second biggest mobile operator in the country, has also decided to not apply for the 4G licence under the current terms and conditions, echoing that the company will be willing to participate in the light of new requirements, the company stated on the Egyptian bourse website on Thursday.
“We believe that to be able to launch 4G with the acceptable quality of service we need at least less 2x20 MHZ [bandwidth] per operator,” Orange Egypt CEO Yves Gauthier told Ahram Online in emailed comments in July.
“The first propositions from the [Egyptian] regulator are very far from this and it is a major concern for us.”
The bandwidth is the amount of data that can be transmitted in a fixed amount of time.
“If we do not have enough frequencies, the speed of 4G will be like the 3G and our customers will be very disappointed,” he said.
Gauthier has also elaborated that the price of the licences and the coverage obligations may affect in return the investments of the mobile operators.
Etisalat Egypt was not available to comment
The state-owned telephone company Telecom Egypt (TE), which holds the landline monopoly, already signed a deal in August to be the first operator to buy a 15-year 4G mobile licence.
Egypt is selling 4G licences as part of a long-awaited scheme to reform the country’s telecoms sector.
TE said that the 15-year licence would cost the company EGP 7.08 billion, of which EGP 5.2 billion was paid in advance, half in US dollars.
In July, Communications and Information Technology Minister Yasser El-Qadi said if any of the three operators do not apply for the new licence, it will be offered to non-Egyptian companies through bidding.
So far Kuwait's leading mobile operator Zain, Saudi Telecom and Lebara KSA have expressed interest in obtaining the new licence.
*The official exchange rate for $1 = EGP 8.78