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Meet A-Tel: Papua New Guinea’s new mobile phone company

The mobile phone company set to become Papua New Guinea’s fourth mobile phone provider says it hopes to begin operations in the third quarter of 2014, targeting areas of the country where there is currently no coverage.

Awal Telecommunications of Saudi Arabia was awarded individual Network Gateway Services, Application and Network licences in a deal worth more than $US260 million (K790 million) at a low-key event in Dubai early last month. The licences run for 10 years.

PNG’s mobile phone market is currently dominated by Digicel PNG, with bmobile and Telikom PNG’s Citifon service competing in some areas.

Asked how the company won the contract, Gulam Mahmud, Vice-President of Awal, told Business Advantage PNG: ‘We met the requirements asked of us and approval was granted. ‘Our board members came to Port Moresby last September and applied to the National Information and Communications Technology Authority (NICTA) for the licence.’

Awal is a subsidiary of Awal International Holdings, and operates fixed line and mobile services in Africa, where it also has three oil and gas licences.

A company newsletter reported last year an interest in developing oil and gas interests in PNG, specifically on Manus Island. Globally, the company has 6,300 staff and a total of 22,000 contractors.

Introducing A-Tel Mahmud says the name it will use in PNG is ‘A-Tel’. ‘We are looking at areas where there is currently no coverage. New people, new customers’.

Describing the Port Moresby market as ‘saturated’, Mahmud says the company is interested in developing coverage in rural and regional parts of PNG. ‘We want to improve mobile services and connectivity in PNG,’ he said.

‘There is a lack of communications in many parts of PNG, call costs and connectivity are reasonably high compared to other countries.

‘We are a member of the International Telecommunications Union, so we are aware of the mountaineous nature of PNG. At present, we are working with vendors and software manufacturers, like Ericsson and Siemens. Our researchers are also working out where to put in towers.

‘In other countries, towers have a reach of about 20kms, but in PNG that might be only 8 to 10 kms.’ Competition He also says Awal is not seeking to take away existing customers from Digicel or bmobile.

‘We take a different proposition. If people like our service, some will switch. If not, they will stay. We are looking at areas where there is currently no coverage. New people, new customers.’ Mahmud says the company will not be launching coverage until it can provide access to at least 50,000 customers.

Putting in infrastructure across the country will take two-to-three years, he adds. Awal’s entry into PNG will also create jobs. ‘I expect, over time, we will employ 800 to 1200, plus contract vendors and business partners and if you take all those into account, that might reach 5000,’ Mahmud told Business Advantage PNG.

This article was kindly sourced from Business Advantage PNG.