The newly licensed second network operator (SNO) will begin to offer commercial services only in the second half of next year.

The telecoms operator, which received its licence last week, said yesterday its business plan and the size of the partners in the consortium would make it "one of SA's largest companies".

The expected rival to Telkom did not say how much it would need to invest in its operations, nor did it disclose a trading name.

"The SNO will focus on the service delivery to its customers, reliability of its network and the provision of new products and services into the market. Its aim is to be the telecom partner of choice for its customers," it said.

As part of its licence obligations, it must provide internet access to 2500 government schools as well as 2500 rural clinics.

Managers will be recruited locally, with foreign support where necessary from Indian stakeholders, the Tata Group and its telecoms subsidiary VSNL, which together hold 26%. The SNO has pledged to recruit the best people in the local market, and said it would set up training programmes to transfer skills to its recruits.

The consortium has not officially commented on a legal challenge to the licence lodged by Optis, a failed bidder for a 51% controlling stake in the consortium. Optis claims that if it had known that the 51% would eventually be split up, it would have rebid for a smaller stake.

One source within the SNO said the case, to be heard in the Pretoria High Court next month, was not a major concern, as it was filed long after the prescribed timeframe for making a complaint.

Business Day