Mozambique's largest mobile phone operator, M-cel, on Monday received a licence to operate a UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunication System) network, which is part of the so-called "third generation" of cellphone technology.

M-cel, which is effectively a public company, has thus outpaced its sole competitor, the South African owned Vodacom, and becomes the first phone company in Mozambique to offer users the multimedia capacities of UMTS, including unlimited internet access.

With this system, M-cel clients can also send and receive images and videos. They can transmit faxes by mobile phone, and can also see the person they are speaking to, if he or she also has a UMTS phone.

At Monday's ceremony the M-cel chairperson, Rui Fernandes, signed the terms and conditions of the licence with the chair of the regulatory body, the National Communications Institute of Mozambique (INCM), Salomao Manhica.

The catch is that M-cel clients cannot immediately enjoy the benefits of UMTS technology. Fernandes told reporters it will only be available as from mid-2007. The first people who will have access will be that minority of clients who pay their mobile phone bills by contract, and not the bulk of users who buy the pre-paid cards.Fernandes said that UMTS technology is part of a package of investments being made by M-cel, which amounts to around 50 million US dollars in 2006 alone.

Currently M-cel, the pioneer of mobile phone technology in Mozambique, covers about 70 per cent of the country, and the company expects this figure to reach 90 per cent by the end of the decade. M-cel has over a million clients, who mostly rely on the relatively cheap pre-paid cards.

Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique