Kuwaiti cellco MTC-Vodafone (formerly Mobile Telecommunications Company) has been given the go-ahead from the Joint Communications Authority Board Iraq and the UK Ministry of Defence to rollout a GSM network in Iraq. The Kuwaiti carrier, which officially became a subsidiary of UK giant Vodafone in March 2003, hopes that the expansion to Iraq will allow it to offset lower subscriber growth at home, where the market is approaching saturation; at the end of 2002 Kuwait’s mobile penetration rate stood at 67.2%. MTC plans to broaden its reach to other countries in the Middle Eastern region in the future, and hopes that the well-known global Vodafone brandname will help it achieve this. In its domestic market, MTC-Vodafone competes just one other player, Wataniya Telecom. It claimed a 55.68% share of the mobile market at the end of 2002, with 786,216 customers over its analogue ETACS and digital GSM networks..
Once up and running, the GSM network will be the second of its kind in Iraq, which is attempting to rebuild its communications services after they were damaged in the recent war. MCI won the first licence in March 2003, which sources claim is worth around USD45 million and will enable the company to provide services to between 5,000 and 10,000 people in the capital Baghdad. Iraq hopes that the rollout of the two rival GSM networks by foreign operators will enable the country to catch up with neighbouring countries in terms of telecoms services. Even before the war, Iraq’s communications resources were scarce, with a solitary mobile network serving just 0.3% of the population. No official dates have been released for the rollout of the networks from either MCI or MTC-Vodafone.