The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has extended payment deadline for provisional licences issued last week to four telecoms companies for the proposed rollout of third generation (3G) mobile services in the country.

Investigations reveal that a seven day extension has been added to the 14-day period in which the companies have to pay the balance of US$135 million for the 2GHz spectrum lots for 3G services supporting voice, data, high-speed internet, mobile-TV among others on mobile networks.

The four licensees include MTN Nigeria Communications Limited owned by South Africa's MTN Group; Celtel Nigeria owned by MTC Celtel of Kuwait; Globacom Limited owned by Nigerian businessman, Mike Adenuga Jr. and Alheri Engineering Limited, owned by the Dangote Group promoted by businessman, Aliko Dangote.

With only these four companies meeting the prequalification deadline for the four licences on offer, the proposed auction slated for next month has been cancelled by NCC, a development that led to last Monday offer of provisional licences.

Investigations also reveal that the licensees have been notified that payments received by the regulator will determine the priority to be accorded issuance of the four spectrum bands which may be on first-come, first-serve basis.

The notice is "an indication that one or two of the spectrum may be prone to some interference", an analyst said last night in the wake of the NCC reprieve while noting that it may have been informed by the need to take into cognizance that virtually all the operators had expected a bid next month and may have structured their financing towards that period.

Hitherto, NCC had said only these four companies that met its prequalification criterion of "qualifying licensed network operators" that will each get a 10MHz lot in the 2GHz spectrum after meeting the March 16 deadline for payment of the $15 million 'Intention-to-Bid Deposit' which represents 10 per cent of the $150 million reserve price for each licence.

Spokesman of NCC, Dave Imoko had last week said the regulator "expects to receive the licence fees, being the Reserve Price of $150 million less the Intention-to-Bid Deposit of $15million, within 14 business days of Award of the Provisional Licence. Upon receipt of cleared funds, the Commission will award the Spectrum Licence."

NCC is offering 40 MHz in four equal blocks of 10 MHz allocated within the following ranges: Block A, 1920 - 1930 MHz, paired with 2110 - 2120 MHz; Block B, 1930 - 1940 MHz, paired with 2120 - 2130 MHz; Block C, 1940 - 1950 MHz, paired with 2130 - 2140 MHz and Block D, 1950 - 1960 MHz, paired with 2140 - 2150 MHz.

However, having learnt a few lessons from the 2G spectrum auctions of January 2001, when Communications Investments Limited (CIL) promoted by Mike Adenuga could not convince NCC to pay in naira, the regulator says that beyond the payment reprieve, licensees can also pay the balance for their licence in the Nigerian currency.

According to the information memorandum for the licensing, "the Intention -to-Bid-Deposit (IBD) must be paid in US Dollars. During the Auction, Bidders are required to bid in U.S. Dollars. They may, however, effect payment in Naira based on the CBN foreign exchange rate on the date of the provisional award of the licence. Bank account details to facilitate Naira payments will be made available to successful Bidders after the auction upon request. "

The four provisional licensees emerged out of 17 applicants for what would have been an auction earlier slated for next month. They were the only ones that met the deadline for the payment of the 10 per cent deposit of the reserve price indicating an intention-to-bid-deposit stipulated by the bid rules to pre-qualify.

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