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Italian communications minister Maurizio Gasparri denied suggestions that he will make an announcement on the subject at a meeting of European communications ministers on 29 November.
The Milan business daily, Milano Finanza, reported that the minister intends to extend the duration of the licences in view of difficult market conditions in the telecoms sector. Gasparri is also considering the possibility of stimulating the development of the 3G market by allowing network sharing and granting the same level of income-tax relief on mobile-phone expenses as currently applies to fixed telephony, the paper said.
Gasparri denied that an announcement on the licence extensions is imminent.
"I don't believe we need an authorisation from the European Union to take a decision on the duration of the UMTS licenses, a question we are examining at the moment." Gasparri said.
The extension of the licence period and the possibility of network sharing would benefit both Italian consumers and mobile operators, said Alessandro Lorenzelli, telecom research manager at Milan-based market research company IDC Italia.
"It's important that the extension of the licence period should not delay the development of innovative new services," Lorenzelli said. "The danger is that it could take the pressure off the operators to introduce new services because they would know they have more time at their disposal."
Italy has one of the most dynamic mobile phone markets in Europe with rapid deployment of new technologies and an expected 49 million active SIM cards by the end of the year. However, that does not necessarily mean that a government decision to create more favourable conditions for the 3G operators will be followed by other European countries, Lorenzelli said.
"Italian operators have already been lucky compared to those in some other countries," he said.