Malawi Mobile Limited, the country’s third cellular phone service provider licenced in April 2002, admitted last Wednesday that it has delayed roll-out of its network initially set for January 2003 but said its programme is still on track.

Company chairman Brian Bowler said in an interview from Lilongwe that currently Malawi Mobile, which is set to invest about K5 billion at present exchange rates (US$56 million) over a five-year period, is in the final stages of negotiations with "one of the biggest" mobile phone operators in the world.

"You will understand this is a very big investment where we had to locate an operator and we are in final stages of negotiations with a very big mobile phone operator who is now ready to come to Malawi," he said of the company which promised to have a dial tone early this year. He said currently, Malawi Mobile and the operator were discussing issues of importation of equipment and tariffs. But Bowler refused to disclose the name of the operator.

In earlier interviews, Bowler said Malawi Mobile is a joint venture between a local business consortium and Ubambo of South Africa. Ubambo, composed of many empowerment companies in South Africa, will have Cell C as its investment representative in the company.

The Nation