Seven telecommunication firms have now been short-listed to vie for the second national operator licence. This means that one firm has been dropped from the list of eight that Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) Director-General John Waweru announced earlier in August to have pre-qualified.

Although Waweru declined to name them as the firms pre-qualified, it has emerged that those in the race include: France Telecom, Telkom South Africa, India's state run Telco, Mahanagar's Telephone Nigam Ltd, Emirates Telecommunications Corporation, a consortium led by Swedtel of Sweden, VTEL from Palestine and Bharti Venturetech of Mauritius.

The CCK chairman, Joseph Njagi, regretted the delay in the licensing of the SNO. "We do appreciate that the country has lost enormously due to the delay of entry of a competitor to Telkom-Kenya," said Njagi. The first attempt to find an SNO was in 2003. It was, however, cancelled after only one bidder was left in the race. According to the CCK plan, the SNO provider will be announced in December.

However, the new operator is expected to start rolling out its services in May next year. "This is because of the equipment must be customised and therefore the winner will have to go back and start manufacturing them to the local specifications," said Waweru at an earlier meeting.

The winner will have a unified licence, which will enable provision of mobile telephone, Internet backbone, international voice gateway, commercial Vsat and long-distance voice and data services.

Bitange Ndemo, the Permanent Secretary in the ministry of Information and Communication, hoped the SNO would streamline telecommunication charges. "These prices are still high for majority of users," he said adding that he expects "the second operator to inject the necessary competition to bring" them down.

The East African Standard