Several international and local operators are understood to have expressed a strong interest in the licence, which would end the present monopoly on mobile services held by Oman Telecommunications Company (Omantel).

Oman is obliged under its commitment to the World Trade Organisation to open up its telecoms market by 2005. The first stage in this process will come in the form of an initial public offering (IPO) for a 20 per cent stake in Omantel, which is wholly owned by the government. The IPO, to take place on the Muscat Securities Market (MSM – stock exchange), is scheduled to take place by the end of the year. A further 10 per cent of the operator’s stock will be divested among state pension funds (MEED 11:4:03).

Omantel has installed more than 230,000 fixed lines in the sultanate and has over 320,000 pre-paid and post-paid customers for its GSM services from a total population of almost 2.5 million people. The company is investing heavily in developing its network further by introducing general packet-switched radio services (GPRS) and third-generation (3G) network coverage to the sultanate.

Eight international telecoms consultants are competing for the contract to provide supervisory services for the expansion of Omantel’s GSM services. Bids are also due by mid-May for the contract to advise the operator on its future plans for network development.