Ethiopia to issue two telecoms licenses by April, behind initial schedule

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia plans to award two telecoms licenses to multinational mobile companies by April 2020, the new communications regulator said on Tuesday, an apparent delay in the timeline officials had previously set.

Balcha Reba, director general of the Ethiopian Communications Authority, gave the date at a press conference. In June, Reuters reported that Ethiopia would issue the licenses by the end of the year, quoting Ethiopian officials and telecoms executives with direct knowledge of the process.

The issuing of licenses will end a state monopoly and open up one of the world’s last major closed telecoms markets in the country of around 100 million.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a push to liberalize the country’s economy last year.

The communications regulator, formed after parliament passed a law covering the liberalization of the sector, will hold a meeting on Nov. 12 in the Ethiopian capital to answer questions of interested companies, Balcha said.

Vodafone VOD.L, South African operator MTN MTNJ.J, France's Orange ORAN.PA and Etisalat ETEL.AD of the United Arab Emirates are likely to be among the leading contenders vying for entry into the Ethiopian market.

(The story corrects and removes “breaking the state monopoly” in first paragraph)

Reporting by Kumera Gemechu; Additional reporting by George Obulutsa and Giulia Paravicini; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by David Evans