The fixed-line monopoly of Saudi Telecom Co. ends as Bahrain's telecoms giant wins bid for second licence.
Bahrain Telecommunications Co. (Batelco) said on Wednesday a group it is leading has won an auction for the second fixed-line telephone licence in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Arab region's biggest telecom market.
"We have won the Saudi fixed-line licence," Batelco Chief Executive Peter Kaliaropoulos told Reuters, declining to outline the size of the bid.
But Sultan al-Malik, spokesman for the Saudi regulator, the Communications and Information Technology Commission, said financial bids for the fixed-line services licence would only be opened on Saturday.
"There may very well be more than one winner, in fact. All three prequalified bidders might win depending on the frequencies for which they bid," Malik said, indicating the regulator may grant licences for different geographical areas of the country.
Ten consortia had applied in March for the licence, which will end the fixed-line monopoly of state-controlled Saudi Telecom Co., two years after the firm lost its mobile service monopoly to Etihad Etisalat.
Consortiums led by Batelco, Verizon Communications and Hong Kong's PCCW were shortlisted on Sunday for the licence.
Kaliaropoulos said Batelco had also bid for a Saudi wireless Internet licence as part of its fixed-line bid and expected to learn the results of that bid on Saturday.
Saudi Telecom has around 4 million fixed-line phone subscribers, which gives it a penetration rate of around 16% of the kingdom's 25-million population. Internet penetration barely exceeds 3%.
Batelco has said it is looking to grow through foreign acquisitions, saying opportunities in its home market of less than 1 million people were limited.
The firm purchased Jordan's Umniah Mobile Co. last year, and last month Batelco bought 20% of Yemeni mobile operator SabaFon for $144 million.
Earlier in April the firm said it had secured a $485 million loan, its first, to fund regional expansion.
Analysts, including Marc Hammoud, senior telecom analyst at Dubai-based Shuaa Capital, said they were uncertain how much the fixed-line licence would be sold for, especially after the $6.11 billion highest bid for Saudi Arabia's third mobile phone licence last month far exceeded their expectations.