PARIS Nov 18 (Reuters) – Ethiopia has told Chinese telecoms
firm ZTE Corp it risked losing part of its deal
worth $800 million to expand the nation’s network because of
differences over costs of upgrading existing systems, an
Ethiopian minister and executive said.
The deal last year with monopoly state-run operator Ethio
Telecom was part of a $1.6 billion package, split between ZTE
and another Chinese firm Huawei Technologies Co Ltd.
The African nation of more than 90 million people wants to
double mobile subscribers to 50 million in 2015 and expand its
3G service. The overall contract includes a plan for Huawei roll
out a high-speed 4G network in Addis Ababa.
“We have contractual issues unresolved,” Communications and
Technology Minister Debretsion Gebremichael told Reuters.
“Swapping existing technology with no additional costs is one.”
He said Ethiopia’s government expected the firms to upgrade
existing equipment without extra charge, but added ZTE had said
this would cost an additional $150 million to $200 million.
“Discussions with Nokia and Ericsson is plan B in case it
does not work out,” the minister said in Paris, where he was
attending a business forum.
A source close to Nokia said last week that
Ericsson and Nokia could be in the running to replace ZTE.
ZTE officials had no comment when asked about a report on
the dispute last week. Ericsson and Nokia officials
had no comment when asked on Tuesday.
The $1.6 billion contract was awarded under a long-term loan
package to be paid over a 13-year period with an interest rate
of less than 1 percent, Ethiopian officials said. Analysts said
other firms might find it tough to match such terms.
Ethio Telecom Chief Executive Andualem Admassie, who was
also in Paris, said a decision was expected in a “matter of
weeks” but said ZTE’s contract would not be scrapped altogether.
“There is nothing about ZTE being pushed out. They are going
to continue, but they may lose some of their market share which
was allotted before,” Andualem said without giving details.
“We approached two companies – Nokia and Ericsson. Possibly
it is going to be Ericsson,” he said, without offering details.
Ethiopia has said it will not follow other African nations
that in handing telecoms licences to private firms, saying the
income generated helped finance railway and other projects.