Three Iraq GSM licences awarded

Iraq’s Ministry of Communications has awarded three 15 year GSM licences, replacing the existing short term contracts and displacing one of the incumbent operators.

MTC Atheer and AsiaCell had their existing licences renewed, while Korek Telecom, a small Kurdish operator running GSM services in the north of Iraq, has been awarded a licence, knocking Orascom-owned Iraqna out of the market. Each licence sold for $1.25bn.

The country’s biggest operator, MTC Atheer, with 3.35 million subscriptions at end-March, said it will now accelerate its expansion into the northern Kurdistan region, following the stability granted by the 15-year national operating licence.

The AsiaCell Consortium is comprised of existing operator Asiacell Iraq with 2.7 million subs, regional operator Qtel investment bank MerchantBridge.

With Iraqna being replaced by Korek Telecom, speculation is rife that Orascom will offload the network, presumably to one of the remaining licensees. Iraqna had 2.84 million subs at the end of March.

A fourth GSM license is also expected to be awarded to state-owned fixed-line operator Iraqi Public Telecommunications at a later date.

AsiaCell, Atheer and Orascom were each awarded a two-year GSM licence in October 2003 by the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

The licences elapsed at end-2005, but the licensees had been given regular three-month extensions, most recently to end-August. A national telecoms regulator, the Communications and Media Commission, was set up in 2005 with a role that includes licensing. Originally, the CMC planned to issue new licenses by end-2005.

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