Egypt to issue landline licences to mobile firms in weeks

The move will end state-owned Telecom Egypt’s fixed-line monopoly

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Egypt will issue landline telecom licenses to participating mobile operators within weeks, the country’s communications minister said on Wednesday, in a move that will end state-owned Telecom Egypt’s fixed-line monopoly.

In September, the government approved issuing new unified licenses that would allow Telecom Egypt to launch mobile services in return for the three mobile operators -- Vodafone Egypt, Mobinil and Etisalat -- entering the landline market.

The reforms have caused some disquiet among mobile firms, with Mobinil -- majority-owned by France’s Orange -- warning in November it might opt out of the landline option unless it was permitted to build its own fixed networks, rather than just using Telecom Egypt’s infrastructure.

But Atef Helmy, Egypt’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology, told reporters all three mobile operators were keen on expanding into fixed-lines and that the necessary licenses would be issued soon.

“We’re talking about weeks, not more, and the fee has been decided and communicated to them -- we are asking for fixed-line license for 100 million Egyptian pounds ($13.1 million),” said Helmy, when asked when the fixed-line licenses would be awarded.

Egypt’s mobile sector is saturated, with a penetration rate of 115 percent at the end of 2012, or 1.15 subscriptions per person, according to the International Telecommunication Union.

Telecom Egypt has agreed to pay 2.5 billion Egyptian pounds for a mobile licence, but does not plan to build its own network until it can obtain permission to provide high-speed 4G -- or long-term evolution (LTE) -- broadband services.

Telecom Egypt, 80-percent government owned, must sell its 45 percent stake in Vodafone Egypt by the end of 2015, Helmy reiterated, but declined to provide further details.

Telecom Egypt has relied on its data business to boost revenue while it waits to launch mobile services.

Vodafone Egypt’s profit for the 2014 financial year fell 9.8 percent to 165 million pounds ($252 million), according to parent firm Vodafone’s annual report.

Etisalat Misr, majority-owned by Abu Dhabi-listed Etisalat, reported a 7.4 percent rise in third-quarter revenue to 1.2 billion dirhams, the most recently available reporting period.

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