Oman has postponed the issue of its third mobile licence to 30th November.
Originally due to be awarded to the winning bidder on 4th September, the country’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority has said that it will delay the allocation while it investigates Omantel’s recent $846 million purchase of a 9.84% stake in Kuwait’s Zain Group – its largest ever overseas acquisition.
Zain is among the regional operators bidding for the licence, along with Etisalat, Saudi Telecom Company (STC) and Sudatel. However, since Omantel is majority owned by the country’s government, there has been debate about whether its acquisition of a holding in Zain should disqualify the Kuwaiti group from bidding for the third Omani licence.
The regulator had been due to announce a shortlist of bidders in August, but this too was delayed. It has been speculated that political tensions with Oman’s neighbours, including Qatar, could have been a factor behind this.
In 2004 Omantel lost its monopoly on the market when Qatari group Ooredoo launched Oman’s second operator. The winner of the new licence will create a third player in the market.
Allegations that the Qatari government has provided support to terrorist organisations have resulted in several nearby countries – including Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – severing diplomatic ties with the nation. However, Oman’s economic ties with Qatar have grown stronger.