Seventeen groups were prequalified in August for the licences, after 26 consortia submitted requests for information (RFIs) on 10 June. The licensing framework will see companies provide fixed wireless local loop (WLL) services, including voice telephony and internet services. The national licences will have a duration of 10 years with the potential for a five-year renewal term. Provincial licences will be offered on a five-year tenure, which can be renewed on a two-year term.

In total, three national licences will be awarded. One will go to the incumbent telecommunications company, Iraqi Telephone & Postal Company (ITPC), with two others awarded to the successful bidders. NCMC will also issue additional provincial licences to facilitate affordable access to local telecommunications services in major cities. The client is looking to draw up a shortlist of companies by 30 January with official awards expected on 9 February.

The International Telecommunications Union put fixed-line penetration in 2001 at a mere 2.9 per cent of the population and estimates that the figure has dropped even further as a result of the ongoing turmoil in the country. ‘Through this licensing framework, wireless spectrum across Iraq can be managed in an efficient and rationalised manner so as to minimise spectral interference and to serve economic, security, educational and social objectives,’ says the RFP. ‘This initiative is focused on leveraging Iraq’s scarce wireless spectrum so as to best enable Iraqis to readily access robust, reliable and affordable telecommunications services in their homes, at work and in their communities.’

The RFP follows NCMC’s decision in mid-November to postpone until the end of June the bidding process for new mobile licences. The licences are likely to have a duration of 15 years, with an automatic extension of five years if the operator meets the terms of its licence. The two-year licences of the existing three foreign operators, consortiums led by Egypt’s Orascom Telecomand MTC and Wataniya Telecom, both of Kuwait, were due to expire on 22 December. However, those licences have been extended by six months.

According to NCMC, the decision was made due to the forthcoming elections scheduled to be held on 15 December. However, other issues under discussion are the terms of interconnection between the successful bidders, the potential period of exclusivity and the number of licences on offer – likely to be three-five.

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