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French Version

Kuwaiti cellular license will seek local partner (Daily Star)

Kuwaiti cellular license hopeful will seek local partner
Wataniya, 1 of 6 bidders for 2 permits, sees Lebanon as part of regional expansion plan.

One of the Kuwaiti companies bidding for two cellular telephone licenses said it is looking for a local partner to run the networks if it wins the contract.

“We will definitely be seeking a local partner,” said David Murray, the CEO and general manager of the Wataniya telecommunications company. Wataniya is one of the six companies, two of which are Kuwaiti, that will be officially bidding for the cellular licenses.

Murray, who is attending a telecommunications conference in Beirut, said his company has long experience in the field of telecommunications, and is interested in regional expansion. “We are not afraid of competition because we started in Kuwait 17 years ago and have more customers than the current operators.”

With a market value of $1.8 billion, Wataniya owns 50 percent of a cellular network in Tunisia in addition to its local firm in Kuwait. “Competition is like a soccer game. You have to play the entire 90 minutes until you know who is the winner,” Murray said. He added a company must have a good knowledge of technology and the markets before making a bid for a license.

The government hopes to privatize the two cellular networks in an attempt to reduce the public debt and modernize the telecommunication industry. But some sources believe that Cellis and LibanCell, the former operators of the networks, have a better chance to win the bidding due to their knowledge of the Lebanese market.

A telecommunications expert said most leading international telecommunication firms may not be willing to match the price asked by the government. He added that most probably the government will keep 40 percent of the cellular networks and sell the rest to private companies. The government needs at least $3 billion this year to lower the $31 billion public debt.

Murray said the two cellular firms that operated the networks in Lebanon have a track record which helps determine the value of the networks. He added that when his company started in Kuwait the cellular penetration was small, but now has “more than 1.4 million mobile subscribers out of a 3.5 million population.”

Murray stressed his company is looking at the long term investment potential in Lebanon, but another Kuwaiti company bidding for the licenses warned against high expectations. “The value of the telecommunication industry dropped by at least 20 percent last year,” said Saad al-Barrak, the director-general of MTC-Vodafone.

Giant firms like Vodafone and FranceTelecom recorded losses last year, resulting in drops in the prices of their shares. “Telecommunications is one of the few profitable sectors in the country but it’s wrong to make high expectations,” Barrak said.

Conference participants underlined the need to liberalize the telecommunications sector in the Middle East and highlighted the lack of regulations.

Telecommunications Minister Jean-Louis Qordahi said progress will not be achieved by only importing equipment and technology.
“We must learn how to use computers and equipment in order to eradicate illiteracy in our countries,” Qordahi said.

The minister said there are 776,000 mobile subscribers in Lebanon, or 22.7 per 100 people, while the number of subscribers for fixed telephone lines is 680,000, or 20 percent of the population. Eight Arab ministers are attending the four-day conference, which was organized by Al-Iktissad wal Aamal magazine.

Beirut 02-06-2003
Osama Habib
The Daily Star

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