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Energis may bid for new mobile licences

ENERGIS, the telecom operator which has built a network by laying its lines along the National Grid's power cables, is interested in bidding for the new generation of mobile phone licences which will be sold off by the government next summer.

Mike Grabiner, chief executive, said Energis was talking to NM Rothschild, the merchant bank which is advising the government on the sale, about the licences. "It would enable us to deliver more broadband data services," he said.

However, he stressed that many details were not yet clear. "We're trying to find out more," he said.

The Government confirmed earlier this month that it planned to auction licences for the next generation of mobile phones - also known as Universal Mobile Telephony Services - in the summer of 1999. The phones will allow faster rates of data transmission than are currently possible, making it possible for users to surf the Internet, access their bank account and even watch real-time video from their mobile handset.

Energis is already offering similar high-speed services through its existing fixed network. "A licence would make an excellent addition to Energis' broadband capability," said Chris Godsmark, telecoms analyst at Henderson Crosthwaite, adding that Energis would probably link up with an existing mobile phone operator to launch a joint bid.

The news emerged as Energis reported a 73 per cent increase in turnover to pounds 168m for the year to March - ahead of analysts' expectations. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation were pounds 16.1m, compared to a pounds 14.3m loss in 1997.

Energis also announced that it now has the technology to operate private data networks on behalf of its clients. This allows them to dispense with buying expensive equipment to run long-distance networks such as corporate intranets.

Energis has gained access to the technology, which can offer the capacity equivalent to thousands of modems in a single box, through its alliance with the US telecom equipment manufacturer Nortel.