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Tue 24 Apr 2007 02:39 PM

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Last call for Arab mobile monopolies

Qatar's launch of a second operator will end the region's last-remaining mobile phone monopoly.

Qatar invited on Monday expressions of interest in the country's second mobile phone licence, which will end the last-remaining mobile phone monopoly in the Arab world by the end of the year.

The Gulf Arab emirate, home to 840,000 people and with a mobile penetration rate of more than 100%, will accept expressions of interest from companies until May 27, the state's Supreme Council of Information & Communication Technology said.

"The penetration rate does not provide a disincentive to enter the market," William Fagan, the council's executive director, told Reuters.

Qatar, holder of the world's third-biggest natural gas reserves, is set to grow at 8.5% this year, the fastest pace in the world's top oil-exporting region.

Its population should hit 1.34 million by 2015, up from 840,000 now, driving mobile phone use, Fagan said.

The regulator had received "more than a dozen" informal expressions of interest in recent months, he said, adding an auction for the licence would be held in the summer.

It also plans to award a fixed-line licence before year-end.

"This is a small country, but it is rapidly expanding in population and GDP per head. There is a lot of room to grow for a new operator," Fagan said.

Fagan would not comment on the possible value of the Qatar mobile licence.

Saudi Arabia, the Gulf's largest telecom market, sold a second mobile phone licence in 2004, got a highest bid of $6.11 billion last month for a third mobile phone licence, far exceeding analyst expectations.


The number of mobile phone users in Qatar, where average revenue per user per year is $981, has almost doubled since 2004, Fagan said.

Qatar Telecommunications Co., which had a monopoly on mobile and fixed-line services until the government said in November it would liberalise the sector, posted a 28.3% rice in mobile phone users last year to 920,000.

Bracing for competition at home, Gulf Arab telecom operators have gone on the hunt for foreign assets after riding a wave of economic growth, fuelled by a near tripling of oil prices in the five years to July 2006.

Emirates Telecommunications Corp., which lost its mobile phone services monopoly this year to du telecom, has expanded in 14 markets since 2004, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Qtel, which was slower to enter the acquisition trail, in March took over Kuwaiti mobile phone operator National Mobile Telecommunications Co. for $3.72 billion, the largest-ever Gulf Arab telecom acquisition.

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