The National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA) is gearing up to release request for qualification (RFQ) documents in September for the country’s much-anticipated third GSM licence.

International operators, in particular regional players such as Kuwait’s MTC, Qatar Telecom (Q-Tel)and the UAE’s Emirates Telecommunications Corporation (Etisalat), are expected to feature prominently among those interested in the licence, which will be awarded in 2006. The Communications & Information Technology (CIT) Ministry has said that the third licence will boost Egypt’s comparatively low mobile phone penetration rate from 10.8 per cent in February 2005 to about 20 per cent by 2008/09. The ministry forecasts that the third licence holder should be able to capture a market share of about 20 per cent within the first four-five years of operations.

According to the Global Research Egypt report released by Kuwait’s Global Investment House (GIH)in July, the existing local GSM operators, Vodafone Egyptand MobiNil, had 3.57 million and 4.02 million subscribers respectively at the end of 2004. GIH expects the total number of mobile phone subscribers in Egypt to rise to about 23 million in 2008, with the third operator to account for about 2.45 million users if operations start as expected in 2007. In the short term, average revenue per user (ARPU) among the two existing players is expected to drop as they ‘strive to gain market share ahead of the entry of the third operator’, according to GIH.

In a separate move aimed at further liberalising the local telecoms sector, NTRA is preparing to issue a tender for two licences for international telecommunications services later this year.