BT and Orange head beauty parade for Irish mobile licences

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The Independent Online

British Telecom, NTL and Orange are expected to join the race for third-generation mobile phone licences in Ireland.

British Telecom, NTL and Orange are expected to join the race for third-generation mobile phone licences in Ireland.

The Irish telecoms regulator, Etain Doyle, is planning to award four licences next year. Unlike the auction process in the UK which raised £22.5bn for the Government, Ms Doyle has opted to hold a "beauty parade" where each company is awarded a licence on the merits of its application.

Licences are expected to be sold for more than £200m each. Three have been earmarked for incumbents and a fourth will go to a new entrant.

BT already has a firm foothold in the Irish market. In January it paid £1.5bn to buy the Republic's second biggest phone company, Esat Telecom. The group owns the country's number-two mobile operation and a significant fixed-line business.

NTL, the Anglo-American cable giant, is also to bid for a licence. In May 1999 it surprised analysts when it bought the Republic's largest cable company, Cablelink, for £430m. It is upgrading its network to offer telephony, internet and services like video-on-demand over the same cable system to its 375,000 domestic customers.

Orange is also expected to enter the race in its second attempt to enter the Irish market. Earlier this year the mobile operator, owned by France Telecom, took Ms Doyle to the Irish Supreme Court when it failed to win an ordinary mobile phone licence. The company claimed the telecoms regulator had been biased in her decision to award an earlier licence to Meteor, an Irish US consortium.

Meteor and Eircom, the former state telecoms company which owns Ireland's largest mobile operation, are also expected to apply.

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