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Baghdad awards cellular licenses

Iraq has announced the companies it has chosen to rebuild part of its communications infrastructure, with cell phone licenses being awarded to three groups.

Iraq's telecommunications agency has announced the companies it has chosen to rebuild part of its communications infrastructure, with mobile phone licenses being awarded to three groups.

One is an Egyptian group comprising Orascom Telecom, plus two Kuwaiti interests. Another is Atheer Telecom, partially owned by MTC. The last is Asia Cell Telecommunications, led by National Mobile Communications.

The licenses, announced this week, will run for two years initially, and it's hoped that the Iraqi mobile network will be fully functioning around the end of this month. However, the contracts stipulate the network must be alive and kicking within two months.

The groups will fund a regulatory body between them, and if their regional offerings are successful--each license covers a distinct geographical area of the country--the Iraqi telecommunication companies will be able to apply for a full national license.

A significant proportion of Iraq's landlines are still out of action following the war and the years of sanctions that preceded it. That situation has led to speculation that the country could be a major growth area for mobile telecommunication companies.

The mobile network will use the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) system, which is the system of choice for the countries surrounding Iraq, with 40 million users in the region alone.

Silicon.com's Jo Best reported from London.