Viewing cable 04AMMAN5403

04AMMAN54032004-06-30 15:42:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Amman
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 AMMAN 005403 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/26/2009 
REF: 2003 AMMAN 7392 
¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Jordan's Telecommunications Regulatory 
Commission (TRC) has granted a new mobile telephony license, 
on a preliminary basis, to a consortium of local Jordanian 
businessmen and Kuwaiti investors.  The new entrant should 
further enhance the competitiveness of Jordan,s 
telecommunications sector.  However, the machinations and 
recriminations surrounding the actual granting process are a 
reminder of the King's essential role as Jordan's engine of 
economic reform.  They may also herald a fight ahead as the 
TRC moves to end Jordan,s fixed-line monopoly.  Meanwhile, 
the promising launch of the new XPress combined trunking and 
mobile telephony service threatens both the positions of the 
incumbents and the viability of the new licensee. END SUMMARY. 
¶2. After repeated delays, the TRC announced on June 7 that 
Umniah Telecom and Technologies, a consortium 65 
percent-owned by a group of Jordanian businessmen and 35 
percent-owned by Kuwait,s Al-Ghanim group, had been selected 
as the top choice for a new mobile telephony license.  The 
group, led by the former CEO of Jordan,s dominant mobile 
provider Fastlink, has entered negotiations with the TRC on 
the specifics of the license it will be awarded. 
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¶3. (SBU) While it now appears a fait accompli, the awarding 
of a third (or fourth ) Reftel A) mobile telephony license 
in a market as small as Jordan,s has been no easy task. 
After tendering in November, the TRC was disappointed to 
receive initially only six bids, with only four consortia 
pre-qualifying.  Of these four bidders, Bahraini monopoly 
provider Batelco and a consortium made up of Qualcomm 
(managing partner) and Saudi Oger (silent investor) decided 
that the license was not worth further effort.  Only two 
bidders ) Umniah and the Luxembourg-based Investcom, backed 
by the Lebanese Makati brothers ) chose to submit full 
applications for the new license.  The paucity of final bids 
brought new worries to both the TRC and the government as a 
whole and presented the incumbent mobile providers, MTC-owned 
Fastlink and Jordan Telecom (JT)-owned MobileCom, with an 
¶4. (C) According to a TRC source, shortly after the final 
bids were submitted, representatives from Fastlink and 
MobileCom approached Prime Minister Faisal Al-Fayiz with an 
offer to pay the GOJ to cancel the new license.  The 
incumbents were prepared to offer a one-time transfer of $82 
million to the Jordanian national treasury in return for the 
cancellation of the tender.  TRC CEO Muna Nijem, informed of 
the offer, had the TRC staff calculate the potential value of 
the deal for the incumbents.  The TRC found that Fastlink 
alone stood to gain over $200 million in profits from the 
absence of a new licensee. 
¶5. (C) The TRC presented its objections to the PM, who 
reportedly still favored the proffered deal and set up a 
meeting with King Abdullah.  At the meeting, which included 
the PM, Nijem, representatives from the two incumbents, and 
Minister of Information and Communications Technology Fawaz 
Al-Zou,bi, the PM reportedly presented the buyout deal to 
the King in the context of the lack of bidder interest in the 
license.  The King then asked Nijem,s opinion on the deal 
and, upon finding that she opposed it, told the PM that he 
should support the decision of the regulator.  The tender 
went ahead over the continued objections of the incumbents, 
but remained in some doubt up until the the actual TRC 
announcement of the provisional winner. 
¶6. (SBU) The dominant incumbent, Fastlink, has fought tooth 
and nail, from the very beginning of the tendering process, 
to stop the new entrant.  As an adjunct to its unsuccessful 
buyout of the new license, Fastlink applied a great deal of 
pressure on the TRC to stop supporting the new license. 
Throughout the period during which the licensees were being 
considered, CEO Mohammed Saqer and other Fastlink executives 
blasted the TRC both in the press and in private as a 
shortsighted, compromised institution driving the industry to 
ruinous competition that would result in a market failure for 
at least one of the players. 
¶7. (C) Fastlink also has embarked on a whispering campaign 
portraying the TRC - ironically - as compromised by 
non-transparent dealings.  In separate meetings with USG 
personnel, both Fastlink,s Deputy CEO Bassem Rousan 
(explicitly) and its former Chief Strategy Officer (more 
circumspectly) explained the new license as an attempt to 
paper over the distortions created by a shady, 
behind-the-scenes deal that produced the trunking license 
held by XPress parent company New Generations 
Telecommunications (NewGen).  According to Rousan, Nijem had 
initially (in 2002) tried to deny NewGen,s application for a 
trunking license on a number of grounds.  Jordanians involved 
in setting up the corporation, however, had approached King 
Abdullah at the World Economic Forum that year in Davos, and 
had persuaded him (no mention was made of how) to support the 
license.  The King had then contacted Nijem directly and had 
directed her to approve the license.  Nijem, said Rousan, 
unwillingly granted the license but knew that the 
non-transparent way in which it had been granted would 
eventually be discovered.  She had therefore initiated a 
tender to award an unneeded fourth mobile license in a fully 
transparent manner, thereby diverting attention from her 
supposedly less savory role in the NewGen license at the cost 
of the health of the mobile telephony sector in Jordan.  (A 
TRC source confirms that the King intervened to support the 
NewGen license, but says that the decision to grant a fourth 
mobile license was taken before the trunking license issue 
was resolved.) 
¶8. (C) FastLink hints that its strategy in dealing with the 
Umniah will be based primarily on denying the new entrant any 
cooperation, in solidarity with MobileCom.  "As long as 
MobileCom does not panic," says Chief Strategy Officer Motaz 
Hashem, "we don,t foresee any serious trouble." 
¶8. (SBU) MobileCom has held its cards much closer to its vest 
than Fastlink.  Outside of its alleged participation in the 
backroom offer to pay for suppression of the new license, it 
has been virtually invisible in the debate.  Executives have 
refused to talk to either the Embassy or the press, other 
than to express anodyne worries that Jordan,s mobile 
telephony market has grown too heavily saturated.  This 
contrast with Fastlink,s slash-and-burn tactics may have 
stemmed from MobileCom,s continued interest in pursuing 
several long-sought-after measures that have now been granted 
by the TRC in order to remove anti-competitive barriers that 
would hinder market entry of the new licensee.  These new 
measures, which include mandatory reduced rates for calls 
from Fastlink numbers to other networks, and, more important 
number portability, diminish some of Fastlink,s incumbency 
advantages which had aided it in retaining its command (a 75 
percent share of subscribers) of Jordan,s mobile telephony 
¶9. (SBU) While TRC,s announcement of these new measures may 
sweeten the bitter pill of the new competition for MobileCom, 
the number two network is on much shakier ground than 
Fastlink.  In FY 2003, for the first time, MobileCom made an 
EBITDA net profit; it is still well in the red overall.  And 
the focus of MobileCom,s parent company, Jordan Telecom 
(JT), which has supported MobileCom through four years of 
substantial losses, is being diverted by the coming end (at 
the end of 2004) of JT,s own monopoly.  MobileCom is 
anticipating an IPO for some of its stock as JT attempts to 
recoup some of its investment, and it is not in a very good 
position to ward off yet another challenger. 
¶10. (SBU) MobileCom is especially vulnerable to the business 
plan that Umniah presented to the TRC.  Umniah will focus on 
pricing competition, targeting lower-income mobile users. 
This entry will echo MobileCom,s own 1999 entry strategy, 
which has left it with a disproportionately large number of 
such users.  And contrary to initial expectations, Umniah 
plans to erect its own network rather than using spare 
capacity from MobileCom,s network. 
¶11. (SBU) Umniah,s entry strategy into a tight market is 
becoming more clear.  Chinese telecom equipment maker (and 
accused Iraq sanctions buster) Huawei has taken a small stake 
in the Umniah consortium and will likely provide the majority 
of the new licensee,s inputs at low cost.  This should keep 
down the initial cost of installing network infrastructure, 
though the JD 250 million ($352.5 million) Kuwaiti investment 
would in any case be able to cover the costs of a build-out. 
It also marks another step in Huawei,s aggressive expansion 
in the Middle East. 
¶12. (SBU) Umniah appears to be positioning itself as a 
"Jordanian" alternative to the Kuwaiti-owned Fastlink and the 
heavily French-influenced MobileCom.  It forced local papers 
to publish a correction to an article that Umniah claimed had 
overemphasized the substantial Kuwaiti investment in Umniah 
at the expense of the Jordanian dominance of the 
consortium,s ownership structure.  Upcoming IPOs on the 
Amman Stock Exchange for both incumbents may conversely be 
intended in part to reverse this perception. 
¶13. (SBU) XPress launched its nationwide Push-to-Talk (PTT) 
trunking service June 6, after a massive advertising blitz. 
The service, recipient of a $49.4 million loan from Ex-Im 
Bank because of its heavy use of US-manufactured Motorola 
inputs, has targeted the high-end corporate market with flat 
monthly fees for PTT services and promises of enhanced 
customer service.  Handset costs are being heavily subsidized 
for early buyers in an attempt to expand the network of users 
quickly and create economies of scale.  However, with 
start-up capital of $80 million substantially multiplied by 
low-cost financing such as that provided by the Ex-Im Bank 
loan, expenditures to date of only $60-70 million, and 
deep-pocketed investors likely willing to tide the company 
over its early period, there seems little likelihood of a 
default of any kind by the company. 
¶14. (C) XPress has so far built only the first phase of its 
network, but it already provides network coverage from Irbid 
in the north to Aqaba in the south, an area containing 95 
percent of Jordan,s population.  Further planned phases of 
the network, over the eastern desert to the Saudi and Iraqi 
borders, would serve the needs of XPress, two most strongly 
desired potential customers: the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF) 
and the Public Security Directorate (PSD ) the national 
police).  The JAF is considering the purchase of the phones, 
which have a walki-talkie capability, and is testing them, 
planning to make a decision over the next week, while the 
less well-funded PSD has no plans to buy them at this time. 
Already, both the Royal Court and the General Intelligence 
Directorate have signed purchase agreements with XPress, 
reinforcing the perception of royal links with NewGen. 
Whether XPress turns early to competition in traditional 
mobile services may hinge on whether or not it gets the JAF 
and PSD contracts that it desires ) filling such large 
orders and building the network infrastructure to meet those 
organizations, needs will require a focus that would scotch 
an expansion in mobile services for a while, at least. 
¶15. (C) The addition of two new market entrants into 
Jordan,s small mobile telephony market could create the most 
competitive such market in the Middle East ) a success story 
for the TRC and the resolutely pro-competition Minister 
Zou,bi, whether or not all of the new entrants survive.  The 
background of this success, however, is slightly more 
worrying, though not entirely surprising.  That the PM was 
willing to call off a major economic reform initiative called 
for in Jordan,s WTO accession agreement because of an 
attractive buy-off option is problematic.  That the ground 
rules for how to proceed on market liberalization in the 
telecom sector are sufficiently unclear that the PM and the 
TRC CEO had to take their dispute to the King for 
adjudication is problematic.  And while the product of the 
King,s intervention in the Umniah license was an encouraging 
sign of his support for an independent regulator, the King,s 
intervention in the NewGen license had the unintended effect 
of undercutting the regulator,s independence.  Many factors 
have created an encouraging constituency within the GOJ for 
IT and telecom reform.  But from the evidence of the mobile 
telephony sector, Jordan,s ability to make difficult 
decisions on liberalization and transparency in this sector - 
as in others - ultimately depends on the leadership and 
engagement of the King.