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Tunisia : A new universal operator. Yes, but will it be Tunisian ?

Tunisia will soon launch a new call for offers for a new telecom operator. The Tunisian minister for Communication Technologies made the announcement in the Parliament commission. The call for offers would be launched , according to our information, before the end of the year 2008 and the operator should take the position in the end of 2009, beginning 2010. The novelty about this announcement, is that the new operators to be selected, should have a universal ticket. The CO, we were told from sources close to the matter, will be international and the offer would be for a fix telephone license, Internet (data) and GSM 3 G.

Why a universal licence ?

Hence, and contrary to what was previously announced, the license will not include only the fix telephone which made the goodwill of Tunisie Telecom (TT). The Tunisian officials also seem to have adopted the idea that such offer (fix license alone) could be uninteresting for a new comer who will not take the risk of investing in a new infrastructure for fixed telephone, even though he may use it for data, while the WiMAX is already operational and is widespread among individual and professional users. He, then, would just have to use the TT infrastructure and this wouldn’t make a serious offer. It wouldn’t either be serious if it was only for the GSM. The two operators ready to share a market, almost saturated with almost 10 million lines GSM for a little over 10 million inhabitants. The importance of the Tunisian offer could then only reside in the commercial combination, between the fix, the data and the GSM. The interested parties could hence find it beneficial and make profit through scale gains [contrary to scale economies]. The market shares to « scratch » from GSM operators, the data operator TT, sole buyer and seller of Broadband, itself data operator with a multitude of other FSI in Tunis, will in this way make attractive profits. TT does already have the 3 G  in experiment since the last world summit of the information technologies (WSIT) and it could develop it after the arrival of the new operators ; the private GSM operator itself, Tunisiana, would then like to have it and this presents a niche to be shared between the three Tunisian operators.

And why not Tunisiana from Tunisia ?

With a part of the cards in this deal of the telecommunication sector, now unveiled, it is, according to us, high time to ask several questions. The most important one relating to the future, would be to ask, at the Tunisian government level and the decision-makers of the sector, when will Tunisia stop looking no further than its «financial navel» and considering only what could be earned in currency by the State ?

Tunisia is investing in new technologies and is creating a big number of technopoles. Tunisian is encouraging alliances with important developers and is associating with Microsoft so that it endorses Tunisian projects in terms of ICT. Tunisia is training technicians and is presented like the Bangalore of Africa for the Europeans and even sees the high executives trained with its own budget, fly towards big ICT enterprises and Telecom to take high position and sometimes of decision. Famous names of  the telecommunication train their executives, in Tunisia and among Tunisians, to send them on international sites. 
An enterprise, Divona not to give the name, has proved that you can be simply Tunisian and be a telecom operator, without the support of a «strategic partner», as they are called by the Tunisian elaborators of the calls for offersc. In fact, the enterprise has just bought the shares of Monaco Telecom and, in this way, becomes a pure Tunisian Divona, which operates a unique network in Tunisia, the network WiMAX. It is not the only one to give proofs of such technological and financial capacity. TT had done this before, when it competed with the big enterprises in Mauritania where Mauritel operates well and makes a lot of money, or also in Mali where it wins over no less than the historical Mauritanian operator. It did not need a “strategic partner” for these two countries, it, itself became one of them.

What else can, then, be added to these arguments, to the Tunisian decision-makers, to look up, stop bending, and declare loudly that the country is able to give birth to a good operator?

When will the decision-makers realise that investing in the Tunisian competences and financial capacities, which abund, who will pay their taxes and invest in Tunisia, it is still a lot better than the currencies to get from foreigners ?

And what if the elaborators of the next international call for offers respected their «Tunisianity» [excuse the word] by imposing, at least, that the universal candidate should first take a Tunisian “strategic partner”?

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