The Polish telecommunications regulator, The Office for Telecommunication and Postal Regulation (URTiP), has published conditions for the forthcoming tender of GSM and 3G licences, which could herald the entrance of a fourth – and possibly even a fifth – operator to the market. Potential bidders are quoted in the national press as Hutchison Europe, an arm of Hutchison Whampoa, as well as the country’s three existing wireless operators – PTC, Polkomtel and PTK Centertel – and landline operators Netia and Tele2. However all three non-incumbents have already indicated that they may withdraw from the bidding process if URTiP fails to ensure that the new licensee has access to existing 2G and 3G infrastructure while it builds out their own networks. According to Witold Grabos, the head of URTiP, a decision on this issue will not be made until the end of March, while the government assesses whether granting domestic roaming rights would lead to legal challenges.
Further controversy comes by way of the fact that Poland’s trio of existing mobile operators are keen to ensure that any new UMTS licensee pay at least the EUR650 million pricetag that they had to stump up, claiming that a lower price would open the way for them to sue the government. However Grabos claims that since the shape of the mobile market has changed since the original licences were sold, it makes no sense to impose the same fee on later entrants.
The prospect of a fourth competitor has seen Poland’s existing players embark on a strategy of cutting tarrifs and improving services, especially in the pre-paid segment. It remains a possibility, however, that one of the incumbents could make a play for the additional licences, giving it access to extra spectrum while at the same time preventing the entrance of a new player. As it stands, Poland is home to 21.1 million wireless subscribers, with customers split roughly equally between the three cellcos. Mobile penetration at September 2004 stood at just 55%, placing it well behind the likes of Hungary (80%), Estonia (88%) and Slovenia (106.6%).