Iraq's communications minister said he expected the country's planned fourth mobile phone licence to fetch between $1 billion to $2 billion [2.4 trillion Iraqi dinars] in an auction expected by the end of this year.
According to Reuters, Mohammed Allawi said the expected cost for the licence, including installations and infrastructure costs, could be in the range from $1 to $2 billion, correcting an earlier statement he made on Wednesday.
Forty percent of the licence would go to an operator, 35 percent to the public and 25 percent to the Communications Ministry. Iraq's mobile phone market, which did not exist under Saddam Hussein, has mushroomed since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled him.
The country held an auction in 2007 in which Kuwait's Zain, AsiaCell and Korek Telecom -- based in the northern Kurdish area -- bought 15-year licences for $1.25 billion each.
Allawi said he welcomed Monday's news about a deal in which France Telecom and Kuwaiti logistics group Agility will buy a 44 percent stake in Korek, but said this did not detract from the need for a fourth mobile phone operator in Iraq.
"France Telecom is going to expand Korek, give it more cover," he said. "Regarding the fourth licence, the most important thing about it is that we are going for more advanced technology. At present we have no 3G in Iraq, we have no 4G. We have only GSM."
Eight years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq's infrastructure is still badly battered and landline and internet penetration remain low.
Third-generation (3G) technology would allow data-hungry consumers to surf the internet and download music to handsets quickly on the go.