On the cabinet meeting held yesterday Saturday May 22, the Council of Ministers unanimously decided to grant a telecom license for one of the two finalists.
The government has been in works to open the telecom industry for two more operators that reach the final stage this week as per the government demand.
Balcha Reba, Director General of ECA that leads the process with the Ministry of Finance, told Capital that ECA will float another bid in the near future to give the second license to another operator.
The highly anticipated spectrum sales has allowed the country to amass USD 850 million from one license, while the second bidder lost after it offered USD 600 million.
In its proposal, Global Partnership for Ethiopia, a consortium of telecom giants and financial firms, proposed to undertake the biggest ever foreign direct investment (FDI) valued at USD 8.5 billion in Ethiopia in the coming 10 years. The amount includes the license fee.
The biggest telecom liberalization process of the century will see the Council of Ministers giving an award for one of the two additional new telecom operators.
The consortium proposal indicates that it will invest USD 8.5 billion in the coming decade that is aligned with the ECA conditions.
ECA stated that the new operators are expected to have coverage of 25 percent in the first year of their operation in the country which will expand to 40 percent in the second year, 55 percent in the third year, 70 percent of in the fourth years, 80 percent in five years, 90 percent in seven years and 95 percent in 10 years time. According to the plan, companies would cover 97 percent of the country on their 15th year operation period and the operation license period will be 15 years.
They said up to 1.5 million professional and quality jobs will be created by their investment. “According to their proposal, they have aligned with the five year digital strategy, 10 year development plan and other sectoral plans besides their business perspective makes it very acceptable,” the Director General told Capital.
The second bidder has proposed USD 600 million which is lower by USD 250 million than the highest offer. “Allowing the company to get a license with this difference for similar frequency allocation and license conductions is unfair, which affects the competition. Due to that the Council of Ministers decided to reject the second offer and decided to issue another bid,” Balcha told Capital.
He said that regarding both companies financial proposal, the bid evaluation committee have been given ten days to revise their price tags and at least price match for the second bidder to the highest offer, “they said as per our business valuation the license is worth our offer.”
Sources said the companies agreed to add some more services rather than revise their offers.
Balcha said that the earning from the first license is good, “it is not far from our business valuation.”
He added that the second offer is much lower than from ECA’s valuation estimate.
Some experts said that the emerging of over-the-top (OTT) media service, a media service offered directly on different platforms via the internet, may affect the value of the telecom business and such kind of liberalization process on the industry.
Balcha said that the value of frequency is time sensitive and have billions of dollars investment, due to that the coming of OTT is stated as a challenge for the telecom industry and spectrum value, “but we will float the second round bid swiftly with some revision on the previous bid document.”
He hoped that on the second round bid a better offer will be tabled that benefits the country.
Early this week the South Africa-based Vodacom Group, which has 34.9 percent share on Safaricom disclosed that the consortium is 56 percent owned by Safaricom, six percent by Vodacom, 25 percent by Sumitomo of the Japanese conglomerate and 10 percent by CDC, the UK sovereign investment fund.
Business Daily reported that Safaricom was allowed to lead the consortium for several reasons, including Kenya’s geographical proximity to Ethiopia.
The current move is more than opening the sector for more players to compete with the government giant. It is a crucial step for the country and its political economy to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) as per the government set timeframe.
The way to liberalization
On the process to grant two telecom licenses, the Ethiopian Communication Authority (ECA) had undertaken massive operations with the support of consultants; the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Coleago Consulting, Johns Day, Ernst & Young, Roland Berger, and Gong.
The Ethiopian Communication Authority started operation in September 2019 with international best practice. At the beginning it introduced new regulatory reform and strategic principles that was discussed with various parts of the community in different occasions.
ECA issued the first public notice on October 22, 2019, to initiate a stakeholder consultation, pursuant to article 35-37 of the proclamation, to collect contributions from all interested stakeholders regarding the proposed new telecommunications regulatory framework and strategic guideline, as well as the market opening process.
The national and international stakeholders consultation that took almost a month topics were licensing framework, licensing process, scope of the full service licenses, spectrum (and other scarce resources) management and fees, competition and economic regulation, infrastructure, interconnection and colocation, universal access and national security.
Based on the discussion and the framework, ECA has developed 18 directives, regulation and guidelines in its 18 months lifespan.
At the same time the authority had also issued an expression of interest (EoI) in May last year that attracted 11 companies and a consortium that includes influential players in the sector.
Balcha Reba, Director General of ECA, told the executives and advisory board on the briefing held on May 20 at the Office of the Prime Minister that the final bidding process was very rigorous on the aim to attain qualified operators on the telecom industry.
The major interested companies are Global Partnership for Ethiopia Consortium, MTN, Orange, Etisalat, Axian, Liquid Telecom and Telecom SA.
Global Partnership for Ethiopia that includes Vodafone, Vodacom, Safaricom, Sumitomo Corporation, CDC Group of UK development finance institution, come under consortium with finical support of United States International Development Finance Corporation (DFC).
It is working on 26 countries of which 8 in Africa. It has 735 million customers and its annual revenue is USD 41 billion from mobile service and USD 19 billion from fixed and internet.
MTN, a South African company, has business in 20 countries of which 15 in Africa. It has 251 million subscribers and its revenue is USD 8.6 billion from mobile and USD 964 million from fixed service.
The other company that expressed its interest to involve on the bid and changed its strategy to get share on Ethio Telecom is Orange. It is working in 25 countries including 16 African countries and its mobile service customers are 207 million and 45 million in fixed line. Orange’s annual revenue is USD 48 billion from mobile and USD 35 billion fixed services. It makes Orange the biggest company in terms of revenue from interested partisans on the process even compared with the consortium.
Etisalat of UAE is working in 16 countries including 11 in African market. It has 139 million and 6 million mobile and fixed subscribers. Its annual revenue is USD 11 billion and USD 6.8 billion revenue from mobile and fixed services respectively.
STC is the Saudi telecom operators with a reach of four countries in the gulf and Malaysia. It has 21 million and 2.1 million mobile and fixed line subscribers respectively.
The Mauritius based Axian has 15 million subscribers at its market in 5 African countries.
Telecom SA is engaged in 6 countries, Liquid Telecom of UK based company is not working on mobile operation, Snail Mobile of China is a virtual mobile operator with 17 million subscribers.
The liberalization request for proposal (RFP) was issued in November 27 and nine interested companies including 5 telecom companies, one virtual mobile operator, and three non-telecom operators have been attracted.
The five telecom operators are the consortium, MTN, Orange, Etisalat and Zain of Kuwait, which was not show up on the EoI.
Balcha said that these are the potential companies that shall be participated under our criteria on the bid document.
On the bid opening date on April 26, MTN and the consortium participated. “Meanwhile, it is said two offers from the consortium- which in itself is a world class companies and MTN the African giant,” Balcha explained.
“Why two offers came to existence is because stringent conditions have been put in the bid document on the financial and technical criteria that shall be affordable with the country population and area. Because of that, the major shares of interested companies are unable to come,” the Director General elaborated.
Orange preferred to participate on the partial privatization at Ethio Telecom, “because mobile financial service and third party infrastructure providers are not allowed, Etislat also preferred play on the privatization.”
Technical and financial criteria
The technical criteria on bid document stated that the company that demands to be player on Ethiopian telecom business should have at least 30 million mobile subscribers and at least five million subscribers in three consecutive years until 2019 in different countries.
It has also asked that the companies’ activity on emerging markets and the qualification document justified from different regulatory bodies in the countries they operate.
Their involvement of fiber optics development as a nation, and market share were also stated as a criteria.
On the market share criteria companies must have 25 percent market share on the countries that have over 35 million subscribers. 30 percent market share for less than 35 million subscribers.
The companies supposed to deploy 3G by at least 60 percent and 30 percent for 4G.
Their net worth for consecutive three years until 2019 should be USD one billion. Earnings before interest tax, depreciation and amortization are not less than USD 500 million for 2017 to 2019.
Net debt to earnings before interest tax, depreciation and amortization has been also one of the criteria to get a company that is free from debt.
The bid bond was USD 10 billion and the stand by letter of credit was USD 500 million.
Balcha said that there are different factors that condensed the number of participants, “the global pandemic, the law enforcement at the north of the country, the concern in relation with GERD and border issue with Sudan have been mentioned by interested actors as uncertainty.”
Over the top (OTT), killer applications, that are expanding from time to time have been stated as another issue, “they said the third party infrastructure providers shall compensate the effect of OTT otherwise the network and capital expenditure cost will be high.”
The rejection of mobile money and third party infrastructure providers by the government has been also stated as a reason for companies not to be part of the bid.
“As per our evaluation we did understand that the process is not lost potential bidder or direct/implied opportunity. For instance some potentials like the Dutch Telecom, T-Mobil, British Telecom and other Chinese operators are not operating in Africa,” he said.
On the financial evolution the key factor is spectrum value or license selling. Average revenue per user (ARPU), and market concentration that measure by Herfindahl index, which determine market competitiveness are the measurement for value of spectrum.
Fixed line broadband penetration density, GDP per capital, inflation, exchange rate, tax rate, population density, and urbanization/rurality are other areas to estimate the license value.
“As ECA we consider that we get strong offers however there was a 29.4 percent difference between the highest and the second offer,” the Director General explained the bid evaluation committee assessment. He elaborated that such kind of difference is common on similar process in other countries, “for instance the experience of Morocco shows that.”
Balcha said the spectrum value is calculated on dollar pre megahertz per population; and thus on that it is good offer compared with global experience.
He said that the authority have negotiated with companies to come up with a revised offer, while their response was that as per the RFP condition their offer is best and final.