A joint venture between Qatar Telecom (Q-Tel) and Denmark’s TDC has won the race for Oman’s second mobile licence, according to Qatar’s Gulf Times. The Sultanate’s tender board reportedly chose the Q-Tel/TDC consortium as its preferred bidder on Tuesday, but an official announcement is not expected until the end of the month. The decision was originally due at the end of May but was delayed because of ‘certain technical obligations’, according to the Oman Telecoms Regulatory Authority (TRA). The winning venture – provisionally branded Nawras Telecom – beat five other short listed contenders: the UK’s Cable & Wireless in tandem with Batelco of Bahrain; MTC of Kuwait; Austria’s MobilCom; Luxembourg-based Investcom; and pan-African cellular group Celtel International.
Nawras Telecom will pay a licence fee of OMR500,000 (USD1.3 million) for the 15-year concession, which also comes with the option of a ten-year extension. In addition it must contribute 12% of its annual gross revenues to the government’s national telecoms fund. Alongside the provision of GSM voice services the licence provides for calling cards, information services, and value-added services. The regulator has also confirmed that no further players will be licensed for a three-year period.
The Oman government has been looking to liberalise the telecoms market and privatise state-owned Oman Telecommunications Company (Omantel) for more than three years. With mobile penetration standing at 24% at the end of 2003, the state believes that introducing competition will push that figure past 50% by 2008. In preparation for opening up the sector it ordered that Omantel’s mobile business be spun off into a separate operating company in March 2004, creating Oman Mobile Telecommunications Company (OMTC), which took over Omantel’s recently received 15-year basic mobile services concession. In preparation for the imminent arrival of competition OMTC has been taking steps to shore up its defences, including the widescale expansion and upgrade of its network that has seen it more than double its subscriber capacity in the past twelve months. It also launched GPRS and MMS services in April, and rolled out a new SMS news subscription service ‘Hala’ earlier this month.