The shortlist includes six European telcos, six regional firms and one from South Africa (see table). Fourteen companies are understood to have submitted expressions of interest (EoIs) by the 20 September deadline (MEED 30:9:05).

A number of the shortlisted companies are expected to make joint bids with other bidders: Spain’s Telefonicaand Portugal Telecomhave announced their intention to bid as a consortium; France’s Bouygues, which only has experience as a GSM operator, is expected to team up with a telco with fixed-line experience; and Bahrain Telecommunications Company (Batelco)is also understood to be in negotiations to form a consortium.

The UAE consortium of Dubai Technology, e-Commerce & Media Free Zone Authority (Tecom) and Dubai Investment Group (DIG)is also expected to look for a partner. ‘I can’t see them being able to submit a bid on their own,’ says one industry analyst. ‘They would have to team up with a larger operator.’

A bid from Tecom, which operates the IT infrastructure in Dubai Internet City, would represent the company’s first effort to expand its footprint beyond the UAE.

Three data rooms are to be opened, accommodating up to five bidders each, with one set to open before the end of Ramadan and two after. Bids are expected in the first half of December, with an award set for early 2006.

Companies most likely to bid include Telefonica, the UAE’s Emirates Telecommunications Corporation [Etisalat], Telecom Italia, Saudi Telecomand France’s Vivendi Universal.