Egypt has begun selling spectrum for fourth-generation (4G) mobile phone services, with state majority-owned Telecom Egypt (TE) understood to have taken the offer ahead of Egypt’s three mobile network operators (MNOs).

It is not known how much TE, which retains a 45 per cent stake in Vodafone’s Egyptian subsidiary, will pay for its 4G license.

TE, which does not directly offer mobile phone services, paid the Egyptian government £E2.5bn ($281m) for a unified licence to offer both fixed and mobile voice services in 2014.  However, the activation of the licence, which would then allow it to directly compete with the MNOs, has been repeatedly delayed.

The MNOs, comprising the Egyptian subsidiaries of France’s Orange, UK’s Vodafone and UAE’s Etisalat, have yet to make a decision on the 4G licence offer.

Orange Egypt said it was offered £E3.54bn for the licence. The firm said in 2015 that it would only bid for a 4G licence provided it is offered within a viable framework that takes into account the significant investment required in building the more advanced network.

TE is the sole provider of fixed voice services in Egypt. The ongoing regulatory changes will allow TE to offer mobile phone services while allowing the MNOs to offer fixed voice services potentially ending TE’s monopoly.

The government is understood to have offered Orange Egypt EGP100m for the license to offer fixed voice services. The licence for international fixed voice services is priced separately at EGP1.8bn.

The older 3G remains the dominant mobile network in Egypt.

Other countries in the Middle East and North Africa with significantly smaller population have deployed more advanced versions of 4G.

The UAE’s Etisalat launched 4G services in 2011, and began rolling out the more advanced 4G long-term evolution (LTE) and triple-play services in 2015. Ooredoo Qatar completed the upgrade of its LTE network in the first quarter of 2016.

Tunisia’s Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy have also awarded three MNOs a licence to operate 4G networks on 15 March.