Egypt is set to launch a tender for a third national mobile licence later this month. A senior advisor to the government’s Communications and Information Technology Minister, was quoted by Reuters this morning as saying that the sale of the government owned, fixed line operator Telecom Egypt is also on schedule to go ahead this year.

Egypt, which is the most populous country in the Arab world, currently boasts two second generation mobile phone networks. One is controlled by the Egyptian Company for Mobile Services (MobiNil) and the other is operated by the ubiquitous Vodafone.

However, the new licence will enable the winner to offer both second generation mobile services and 3G. At the same time the government says it will allow the two existing operators to upgrade their licences to 3G. All next generation mobile phone services in Egypt will be given the same start date.

The Cairo administration will request proposals for the third licence during the final week of this month, ahead of full bids from interested operators. The final offers from prospective license holders will be judged in January with the licence finally issued by March of next year. The new network will be expected to go into operation in late 2006 or early 2007.

According to the Egyptian government Arab companies as well as US and European operators have so far expressed a strong interest in the licence. One of the first companies to declare an interest was Egyptian outfit Raya Holding, which last month said it was considering bidding for the licence. It also admitted that it is in negotiations Kuwait’s Wataniya Telecom over a joint bid.