European giants eyeing Morocco’s telephony market
Morocco’s most recent initiative in furthering its telecommunications liberalization program is off to a strong start, as 15 firms, including France Telecom and Spain’s Telefonica, have already expressed an interest in biding for the sale of two new fixed line telephony licenses, announced Mustafa Al-Turab, director of the Moroccan National Agency for Telecommunication Regulation (ANRT).
ARNT is expected to issue the tenders in 2002, in a move that will end the longtime monopoly of Maroc Telcom on fixed line services. ANRT will invite domestic and foreign firms to submit proposals, reported Morocco’s official news agency MAP, adding that the first fixed line telephony will be set aside for individual users, while the second will be used by firms and large enterprises. In 2003, Morocco will open bidding on a third mobile phone license as well.
Maroc Telecom, who took the place of the Itissalat Al-Magrib company in 1999, is now 35 percent owned by Vivendi Universal. The French media giant paid $2.2 billion for the stake at an international tender in September 2000.
The Moroccan parliament approved in 1997 a law liberalizing the country's telecom sector. Under the new law, an independent regulatory body—ANRT—was established, chaired by a combination of both private and public sector leaders.
The liberalization process also opened the sector to public telecommunications operators by awarding licenses. Morocco started this process in 1999 when it issued tenders of several licenses including a GSM license. Breaking Itisalat’s monopoly on the mobile phone market, the winner was the Telefonica led-consortium MediTel, who bid $1.1 billion,
In 1999, ANRT has awarded the American Orbcom, partnered by private Moroccan investors, with the GMPC-data operating license, for the price of €10,000 in addition to two percent of the annual turnover paid as royalties.
Other tenders included a GMPC-voice license awarded to the French Global Star/Tesam. Three VSAT licenses were awarded to Space.Com—a Moroccan firm with 15 percent US shares from STM Wireless—Argos/Telenord from Norway and Kuwait’s Gulfsat Maghreb.
European telecom giants exhibit the strongest presence in the Moroccan telecom market today, not only in terms of operator licenses, but also in contracts to upgrade and expand the national network. The first contract was awarded back in 1995 to Siemens—a $29 million deal for the installation of 230,000 lines, 19 digital exchanges, and the upgrade of six existing analog exchanges.
Also in 1995, Alcatel won a contract for the installation of 150,000 lines in Casablanca, and Ericsson won a contract for the installation of 50,000 lines in Agadir, Casablanca, Marrakesh, and Rabat. Another contract was also awarded in 1995 to Fujitsu. The $50-million deal committed the Japanese firm to install fiber optic backbone links, connecting Tetouan and Agadir, Marrakesh and Oujda. The network connects also to Spain and Algeria.
Morocco’s 28-million population is served by some 1.7 million installed telephone lines, pushing telephone density—number of lines per 100 inhabitants—to 5.47 percent. Its mobile phone users rose dramatically following the launch of Maroc Telecom’s private rival, Meditel. Official statistics reveal that there are currently 4.5 million cellular telephone subscribers in Morocco, three million of which are reportedly Maroc Telecom’s clientele. — (Mena Report)
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)