Qatar Telecom (Qtel) is interested in acquisitions in Libya and Syria as it extends its geographical reach and focuses on new data and broadband offerings, the company’s chief executive said yesterday.
Qtel, which aims to be among the world’s 20 biggest telecoms companies by 2020, on Tuesday announced it would double its stake in Iraqi mobile operator Asiacell to 60%. The company also acquired a licence to operate fixed-line and 3G services in Tunisia last month, and was in the running for a license in Syria before unrest erupted there last year.
“We have never stopped looking,” Nasser Marafih, the Qtel chief executive, said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Istanbul. “We got involved in the third licence in Syria before the political problems came. We’re also interested in Libya. We’re still interested in Libya because we think that’s a good market to be in and it would fit with our presence in North Africa.”
In that region, Qtel has investments in Algeria and in Tunisia. It bought half of Tunisiana, Tunisia’s largest telecom operator, from Orascom Telecom for $1.2bn last year, a holding that was increased in 2011 to 75%.
Marafih said the need for regional telecoms to cut costs and become more efficient to compete would drive future consolidation. Qtel, which is majority-owned by the Qatari government, wants to be one of the large regional players, having built up a presence in Asia, the Arabian Gulf and the wider Middle East.
“In our region there are a lot of companies that sit on their own from the beginning,” Marafih said. “It increasingly will be important for them to be part of a group, because cost will be a matter they will have to deal with, and we believe there are opportunities for those companies to align with one of the key operators.”
Qtel’s acquisition of a bigger stake in Iraq’s Asiacell falls in line with its strategy of buying and then judiciously growing telecoms in the region, Marafih said. The company agreed to acquire the additional holding in Asiacell from MerchantBridge, a private equity firm that had a 19% stake, and from the company’s local partner.
As with other parts of the region, the promise in Iraq lies in expanding offerings, Marafih said.
“Still 3G is not there in Iraq, and data and broadband is the key for future growth,” he said. “We’re very optimistic and bullish about the market in Iraq because we think still it’s going to grow at a good rate.”
The conditions of Asiacell’s licence call for the company to list shares on Iraq’s stock market, which Marafih said he hoped could be completed by the end of this year. Morgan Stanley and HSBC have been appointed to handle the offering, he said.
“We are moving as fast as we can, but also there are certain issues we need to deal with, both in the market but also trying to make sure this can be successful,” Marafih said.
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