The three mobile network operators (MNOs) in Egypt – local subsidiaries of France’s Orange, UK’s Vodafone and UAE’s Etisalat – have signed licence deals with the National Telecom regulatory Authority (NTRA) that would allow them to introduce fourth-generation (4G) mobile services to the country.

All three companies initially turned down the offer, citing that “the amount of spectrum on offer was not sufficient for them to offer the service efficiently.” This prompted the NTRA to announce in September that it was considering holding an international auction if it fails to sell the licences to the existing MNOs.

It is understood that Orange paid $484m for its licence, while Vodafone agreed to pay $335m. Etisalat Misr was to pay $535.5m, inclusive of 10 megahertz (MHz) of additional spectrum.

Etisalat Misr and Vodafone have also agreed to each pay $11.26m for a fixed phone service licence.

The incumbent fixed-line operator, Telecom Egypt, was the first to sign up for a 4G licence. It paid NTRA $797m in August to enter the country’s mobile market directly for the first time. The company maintains 44.9 per cent shareholding in Vodafone Egypt.

Prior to this, Telecom Egypt was granted a unified telecoms licence to allow it to offer mobile services. It currently maintains a 44.9 per cent shareholding in Vodafone Egypt.

The selling of 4G licences is in line with a long overdue plan to reform Egypt’s telecoms sector. The operators are to pay for half of their licence in Egyptian pounds and the other half in US dollars, to help address the country’s scarce dollar reserves.

The older 3G remains the dominant mobile network in Egypt. Other countries in the Middle East and North Africa with significantly smaller populations than Egypt have already deployed more advanced versions of 4G.