The Government last week launched a second effort at licensing a competitor to Telkom Kenya under a modified mandate, that would allow the lucky firm to offer both mobile and fixed telephone services.

In re-advertising the search for a second national telecommunications operator, the Government talks of a "unified licence" for the services. A similar effort aborted in 2004 only offered the bidders a licence for fixed telephone services. Now the government appears to have recognised the limitations and opted to make its offer more attractive. The search also comes at a time when interest in fixed line systems is at a low as mobile communications continues to grow.

For a single licence, the second national operator will be allowed to offer voice, data, national cellular mobile, international voice gateway, commercial Vsat (very small aperture terminal) and internet backbone services. Mutua Muthusi, the head of communications and public relations at the industry's regulator, Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), said that in the near future, big operators like Telkom Kenya, Safaricom and Celtel, will be allowed to offer services using a single licence.

"We are in a transition period, after which, for instance, the mobile companies will be allowed to operate fixed line telephony among other services by being issued with a single licence," he told the Nation yesterday. Currently, CCK issues different licences for separate services to telecommunications companies, which the regulator say it will consolidate into a single licence.

The re-advertised tender might rankle Johannesburg-based Econet Wireless group, which won Kenya's third mobile licence in September 2003. After wining the licence, Econet found itself bogged down by a protracted dispute with its partners, prompting the Government to cancel its licence.

The offer closes on June 30, CCK said in the advertisement yesterday. The move is meant to further liberalise the communications market. The second national operator is expected to stimulate competition, and encourage expansion in the communications sector.

After the pre-qualification process, the winning firm should result be issued with a licence on January 2007.

Bidders are required to submit their financial history, including audited financial reports and statements for the last three years. If the applicant is a consortium of several parties, the bidder must submit the same for all participating members of the consortium.

Among other things, an applicant must also submit a network history, including the growth of subscribers in the last five years. Bidders must provide letters of compliance to licence conditions for the last three years issued by the regulatory body of country of network operation.

The Nation