Among the bidders are expected to be international operators, in particular regional players such as Kuwait’s MTC, Qatar Telecom (Q-Tel) and the UAE’s Emirates Telecommunications Corporation (Etisalat), as well as South Africa’s MTN, which has teamed up with the local Raya Holding. The licence will be awarded later this year.

The CIT Ministry has said that the third licence will boost Egypt’s comparatively low mobile phone penetration rate from 13.8 per cent in mid-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.

The development comes ahead of a two-for-one share split at the local Orascom Telecom scheduled for 22 January. The split will see the nominal value of its local shares listed on the Cairo & Alexandria Stock Exchanges (CASE) drop to £E 5 ($0.87) from £E 10 ($1.74).