Industry sources say a new closing date is likely to be set as TCI has yet to respond to a number of requests by potential bidders seeking to clarify technical details. However, TCI has not yet indicated that it will extend the January deadline.

At least eight local consortia were prequalified in November to bid for the project. It is understood that a ninth competitor has since been added to the shortlist. Only local firms with at least 51 per cent private ownership are eligible to participate in the tender.

The successful bidder is expected to bring on board potential partners including international operators, investors and equipment suppliers to carry out the project. Among foreign operators understood to have expressed interest in becoming involved in the project are Mobile Telecommunications Company (MTC)and National Mobile Telecommunications Company (Wataniya Telecom), both of Kuwait; Egypt’s Orascom Telecom; the Lebanese Libancell; Saudi Ogerand telecoms carriers from the Baltics. It is understood that Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM)has withdrawn from the race.

The project covers the installation of a complete network and the provision of all related services. It is part of a larger Posts, Telephones & Telegraphs (PTT) Ministry scheme to upgrade Iran’s cellular network to about 10 million lines by 2004 from the existing 1.2 million lines. The target is to be reached by expanding TCI’s own network and by allowing the entry of private competition with the award of a second GSM licence (MEED 3:5:02).