The Ethiopian authorities are to allow the new licence offered to a Safaricom-led consortium in May to be upgraded to include mobile financial services.
According to the Business Daily Africa website, the Ethiopian authorities have said that the licence – making the consortium the first new operator in the country to compete with state-run Ethio Telecom – will be upgraded when bidding for the second telecoms operator licence, due to open this month, is over. This is a rerun of bidding for the second licence after the only bid made was deemed to be too low.
As regular readers will know, the terms for the second licence have now been adjusted to include mobile financial services in order to attract higher bids. It is generally assumed that the low bid received for the second licence inspired a change of mind on the right to operate such services, which had formerly been withheld from new entrants to the market.
Inevitably, as we suggested might happen, this decision has also obliged the Ethiopian authorities to rethink the terms of the earlier award.
Indeed, it has now been stated that the second licence process will not disadvantage the previous winner. This not only means that what is permitted for the second licensee will be permitted for the first licensee but that both licensees will have the chance to start providing mobile financial services at the same time.
But both new entrants will have some catching up to do. State monopoly Ethio Telecom, which launched a new mobile financial service called Telebirr in May, was said in some reports to have signed up six million customers by early July.