Cyprus to open mobile telephony to competition, starting October

NICOSIA (Reuters) – Cyprus plans from October to offer its first mobile telephone licenses outside the state-controlled monopoly, its communications minister said yesterday. Cyprus, a frontrunner for European Union membership in its next expansion wave, is an uncharted market for independent telecoms providers. The state-controlled Cyprus Telecommunications Authority (CyTA) currently controls that market. Authorities have pledged to open up the market by January 2003, about a year before anticipated EU membership. GSM, 3G or a combination? «We will be in a position to start offering mobile telephone licenses from October to the end of the year,» Communications and Works Minister Averof Neophytou told Reuters. «The number, whether it is going to be additional (current standard) GSM or (new, high-speed) 3G licenses or a combination of both, is something which still has to be discussed and decided,» he said. The method that authorities will use to award a license, either by beauty contest or by auction, is also an issue, which will be clarified in the coming weeks after consultations with the telecoms regulator, he said. Building on feedback Cyprus published a consultation paper last month on the licensing of additional mobile and fixed-line telecommunications providers. The paper, which is a precursor to an invitation for bids, encouraged feedback from 20 organizations, Cypriot and international, Neophytou said. According to an official list of public consultation respondents made available to Reuters, the organizations included Ericsson AB, Vodafone Panafon owned by Vodafone Group, STET Hellas, CosmOTE Mobile Telecommunications SA with local partners Shacolas Group, Omnitel and Western Wireless International Corporation, which is a subsidiary of Western Wireless Group. The Cyprus Electricity Authority (EAC), which is now searching for a strategic partner to branch out into telecoms this year, also contributed. The feedback will be assessed by authorities, along with consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers, to help determine how the process is to proceed. «There is some very significant input from these organizations,» said Neophytou. CyTA, meanwhile, is looking to expand abroad in an attempt to offset any effects from deregulation at home. CyTA confirmed last month that it was in exploratory talks to team up with Infoquest, Greece’s would-be fourth mobile telecoms operator. The Cypriot company has allocated 30 million Cyprus pounds ($46.9 million) for investments in Greece this year.