Of the 10 companies that submitted expressions of interest in mid-October, eight have been prequalified. These are: Deutsche Telecom, Maroc Telecom, Kuwait’s Mobile Telecommunications Company, National Mobile Telecommunications Company (Wataniya Telecom), also of Kuwait, South Africa’s MTN, France’s Orange, Spain’s Telefonicaand Turkcell.

Under the terms of the prequalification notice, only companies with at least three years of experience in mobile telephony, 1 million subscribers and market capitalisation of $2,000 million were eligible. A consortium headed by Rothschild (Paris), including legal advisers Coudert Brothersand technical consultant ICEA, is advising the government.

‘The new licence will essentially be a second licence because [state-owned] Algerie Telecomhas only about 150,000-200,000 mobile subscribers,’ says an official involved in the project. Egypt’s Orascom Telecomwas awarded Algeria’s second GSM licence in July 2001. ‘Even with Orascom’s 1.1 million or so customers, penetration is tiny in a population of 33 million.’ After the award of the third licence, there will be a four-year exclusivity period for existing operators (MEED 3:10:03).