Following reports last week that Ethiopia’s parliament is preparing to approve a law which would allow for the liberalisation of the telecoms sector, Reuters has now revealed that plans are afoot for the country to license two new operators by the end of the year. Citing ‘three people with direct knowledge of the process’, the news agency said that Ethiopia’s government is aiming to award licences to ‘multinational mobile companies’ by end-2019. Specifically, as per the state’s plans – which have yet to be formally announced – a bidding process for the two concessions is expected to get underway in September, ahead of the award of concessions in December. It is understood that Ethiopia’s government would then expect winning bidders to begin operations in 2020, with services to initially be offered over Ethio Telecom’s infrastructure.
Government officials are said to have examined a number of options for opening up the market, including the sale of a minority stake in incumbent telecoms provider Ethio Telecom. However, with it claimed that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is keen to deliver quickly on reform pledges, it is believed that the decision to move ahead with issuing new concessions has been made as the Ethio Telecom stake sale looks likely to be a lengthy process.
Commenting on the plans, Ethiopia’s State Minister of Finance Eyob Tekalign Tolina was cited as confirming that the government hopes to launch the bidding process for new concessions in September, though he declined to flesh out the market reform plans. ‘By this time next year, we hope that many Ethiopians will be using different SIM cards,’ the minister noted, adding: ‘We are operating on a very aggressive timeline.’
Meanwhile, Reuters also noted that a new telecoms regulator is expected to be established to oversee the issuing of the new licences. To that end, a law to create the new as yet unnamed agency, is understood to have been debated in parliament late last week.