Egypt-based Orascom Telecom (OT) and Telecom Egypt will start operating Algeria's second fixed-line telephone network this week, officials said on Monday. State-owned Algerie Telecom, currently the sole fixed-line operator with some 3,2-million subscribers, is struggling to meet rising demand in the North African country of 33-million. OT, which already operates the largest mobile phone network in Algeria, and state-run Telecom Egypt paid $65-million last year to win the 15-year Algerian second licence.

The consortium has set up a joint venture called Consortium Algerien de Telecommunication (CAT) to run the national and international network. The two companies each have a 50% stake in CAT. "Technically everything is ready," Mohamed Belfodi, president of telecom regulatory authority ARPT, told Reuters. A CAT spokesman said the company would begin selling subscriptions for the service on Thursday. The network was already in place in Algiers and was ready to be used by customers, he said.

Algerie Telecom plans to invest $2,5-billion in coming years to boost its services including high-speed Internet access. There are more than thirteen million mobile phone users in the country, where foreign investment is slowly returning after more than a decade of Islamic-linked violence.