Egypt is threatening to punish mobile phone operators with a freeze on new customer lines if they keep prices lower after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, newspapers reported on Tuesday.
Main operators Mobinil and Vodafone Egypt have offered customers phone calls as cheap as five piastres (one cent) a minute during Ramadan, which ends by September 20.
Vodafone and Etisalat Egypt have also slashed roaming fees to about nine cents a minute for subscribers receiving calls from Egypt while on pilgrimage to Islam's holiest places in Saudi Arabia.
Communications and Information Technology Minister Tareq Kamel said the offers were harming other companies, apparently referring to the government's landline operator Telecom Egypt, independent daily Al-Masry Al-Yom reported.
State-news agency MENA reported that Kamel had agreed in a meeting with the companies' representatives to allow them to continue their offers until Ramadan ends.
Telecom Egypt reported in July that it had lost 1.5 million subscribers, but Kamel said at a news conference on Monday that he was confident that they would renew their subscriptions, MENA reported.
About 45 million Egyptians out of an 80-million-strong population have mobile phone subscriptions, with the number of subscribers growing annually.
Kamel added that the mobile phone market's growth was profitable for Telecom, which owns a 45 percent stake in Vodafone Egypt and signed a deal with the provider to transit international calls through its gateway services, the agency reported.
The deal is expected to bring in four billion pounds (739 million dollars) for the state-owned company over the next three years.