Lebanon is nearing the launch of a new tender to manage its two state-owned mobile network operators, Touch and Alfa, currently run by Kuwait’s Zain Group and Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Media & Technology Holding (OTMT) respectively, in a telecoms sector revamp, a senior government adviser told Reuters. The Ministry of Telecommunications (MoT) wants to award contracts for an extended three-to-five year period to manage the two networks, while the government also plans to spin off wireless transmission towers into a separate state-owned business that could also be managed by a private company. Karim Kobeissi, senior adviser to the MoT, said that new entrants to the sector could win the tender, although there were no plans for a third mobile operator to compete with Touch and Alfa, while adding that ‘It’s still early to see if other companies are interested.’ The existing contracts of Zain and OTMT were extended for a month to the end of February to allow the Lebanese cabinet time to consider the revamp. Kobeissi also confirmed earlier statements that there would be no new attempts to sell stakes to private investors. ‘There’s no political consensus on privatisation in Lebanon,’ he declared, while adding that the state could sell a separate management contract to run the transmitter tower company. As reported by CommsUpdate at the start of this year, Lebanon’s telecoms minister Nicolas Sehnaoui ruled out the outright privatisation of the country’s mobile market, proposing instead that the current set-up under which the two mobile networks are managed by Zain and OTMT on annually renewable contracts could be replaced by a single network infrastructure company owned by the government, with between three and five private companies offered licences to resell mobile services.
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