Sprint says time is running out

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The Independent Online
SPRINT, the US telecommunications company, will abandon plans to enter the UK market unless the Government agrees to grant a licence within the next few months.

It is believed to be planning to invest about dollars 1bn (pounds 523m) to become the most serious potential rival for BT and Mercury.

Sprint has applied for licences to build and operate a nationwide telephone network and to be an international telephone carrier from the UK. Its partners include British Waterways, which has valuable land for cabling, and cable television companies.

But the Government has said it is unwilling to grant full international licences because of restrictions on UK companies in overseas telephone markets, including the US. Sprint's investment plans hinge on obtaining domestic and international UK licences.

Robert Woolard, vice-president of Sprint, said yesterday that when Sprint announced its intention to enter the market in January BT and Mercury began to sign up large customers on attractive long-term contracts which cut Sprint out of lucrative business.

Sprint had a technology lead but others were catching up. 'The time before the sands run out is measured in short units,' he said.

Yesterday Mr Woolard met Edward Leigh, the telecommunications minister at the Department of Trade and Industry, and said the minister was 'animated' about Sprint's plans. However, Mr Woolard admitted there were hurdles to be overcome.

The DTI said last night that the position on international licences was unchanged.