March 14, 2012 / 1:17 PM / 6 years ago

Iraq telco Korek awaits frequency to launch 3G

DUBAI, March 14 (Reuters) - Iraq’s Korek Telecom hopes to launch a third-generation (3G) network this year, but is waiting for the government to release the necessary spectrum, the operator’s chief executive said on Wednesday.

Korek, in which France Telecom and Kuwait’s Agility own stakes, claims a 70 percent market share in the country’s Kurdish region in the north.

Yet its overall share of Iraqi mobile subscribers is just 13 percent and launching 3G, which would allow for faster Internet connections on mobile phones, could help it win customers from 2G operators Asiacell, an affiliate of Qatar Telecom, and Zain Iraq, part of Kuwait’s Zain.

“The promise of the regulator and the ministry is that we should have 3G soon, so we are waiting for them to figure it out,” Ghada Gebara, Korek chief executive, told Reuters by telephone. “They are serious about it, so it’s just a question of time.”

Gebara said she hoped Korek would launch 3G services this year.

“We already have the right to use any technology we want in our licence, the idea is to get the right frequency,” she said.

The government has yet to decide whether it will charge a fee for the new spectrum, Gebara said, adding extra fees would raise tariffs and slow down investment in new technologies to increase internet penetration.

“The more money you pay, it’s the customer that will pay,” she said.

IPO

The three Iraqi national operators were required to launch initial public offerings to sell 25 percent of their shares by August 2011 as part of their $1.25 billion licences issued in 2007.

All have yet to do so, with the local bourse seemingly ill-equipped to support listings that would likely double its market capitalisation. More than six months since the deadline passed, Gebara said she did not know if Korek would IPO this year.

“It’s not dependent on us,” she said. “It’s the government that needs to put in the right framework.”

Gebara said Korek had no coordination with fellow operators Zain Iraq and Asiacell on when they would each launch an IPO.

“Each company is operating on their own,” added Gebara. (Reporting by Matt Smith; Editing by Firouz Sedarat)

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