By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The British mobile phone company Vodafone has been given an additional month to decide whether to buy a license to provide third-generation mobile phone services in Ireland.
In June, the Vodafone and 02 companies were given the option of buying licenses after a so-called “beauty contest.”
Under the contest system, Ireland’s Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation selected operators to purchase three licenses on merit, rather than selling them to the highest bidder, as they are done in some other countries.
Both were offered third-generation “B” licenses with a deadline for acceptance that ended Aug. 14.
The campany 02 has accepted the offer of a license and paid the initial fee of euro 44.4 million.
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“Vodafone requested extra time, as provided under the tender rules, and the ODTR has granted an extension until Sept. 12,” the ODTR said.
Vodafone was formerly Eircell and 02 was previously Esat Digifone.
The Hong Kong-based Hutchinson Whampoa has already been awarded the single third-genaration “A” license on offer, which provides for at least 80 percent population coverage by 2006.
The “B” license involves providing minimum requirements of 33 percent coverage to be fulfilled by the end of June 2006 and 53 percent coverage by the end of June 2008 — equivalent to the five main cities.
The total license fee is euro 114.1 million, phased over 15 years, with the first installment paid upfront.
Many mobile phone companies are having second thoughts about the profitability and demand for third-generation phones despite paying substantial sums for licenses in other countries.
The Irish government had hoped more companies would have been attracted into the competition for the Irish licenses.
The third-generation technology enables mobile devices to transfer data at speeds up to 40 times faster than current phones. They will facilitate video conferencing and access to the Internet.
There are three mobile phone companies operating in the country. Only the newest entrant to the market, Meteor, did not apply for a third-generation license.