The two mobile phone companies operating in Kenya, Safaricom and Zain, can relax for a couple of months following the news that would-be competitor Econet Wireless Kenya (EWK) Limited has postponed the launch of services until November.

Econet managing director Michael Foley is optimistic that the two-month extension of an earlier September deadline granted by the telecommunications regulator, Communication Commission of Kenya, will enable the company to clear some of the remaining hurdles, including compliance with mandatory local shareholder rules, and woo subscribers to book the three million allocated lines.

EWK, which is controlled by South African-based firm Econet Wireless International, was originally slated to enter the Kenyan market in 2003. However its launch has been beset by a series of legal and bureaucratic problems, leading to numerous delays.

If all goes to plan this time round, Econet will be the third mobile telephone operator in Kenya and users are expecting its launch to lead to lower prices across the market.

There are currently about 11 million mobile telephone subscribers in the country out of a total population of nearly 38 million. According to recent research carried out by an international firm, penetration is expected to almost double by 2010.