Abu Dhabi Group targets Asia, Africa

Holding company plans telecoms and media expansion armed with content from Germany's Bertelsmann.

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By  Reuters Published  September 2, 2007

Abu Dhabi Group said on Sunday it was pushing into telecoms and media markets in Asia and Africa armed with content from Germany's Bertelsmann, including the music of Elvis Presley and Christina Aguilera.

The holding company, owned by a member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi emirate, bought 50% of Bertelsmann's Middle East mobile phone affiliate Arvato Middle East Sales last month. Abu Dhabi is the world's sixth-largest oil exporter.

Bertelsmann content, including songs by artists such as Christina Aguilera, Bob Dylan, Celine Dion and Elvis Presley is key to Abu Dhabi Group's strategy, Chief Executive Bashir Tahir said.

"We plan to not only tap the telecoms market but also the digital media services market especially in areas of mobile and PC entertainment," he told Reuters in an interview.

The music catalogue of Bertelsmann's Sony BMG Music Entertainment joint venture will be packaged into the first wave of expansion, followed by books from Bertelsmann's Random House, publisher of John Grisham and Danielle Steel, he said.

"We have the rights for the Middle East, the sub continent, Africa and the Far East and we plan to launch services by the end of this year," Tahir said.

Abu Dhabi Group - which has investments in banking, construction, real estate and manufacturing - entered Pakistan's telecom market in 2005 through Warid Telecom, and now has 11.5 million customers, Tahir said.

Warid plans to spend $800 million by 2009 to expand the network as it seeks to become the second-largest operator in Asia's fourth most-populous country, he added.

It is now the third-biggest operator after Mobilink, a unit of Egypt's Orascom Telecom and the Ufone subsidiary of Pakistan Telecommunication Co. Ltd.
Singapore Telecommunications, Southeast Asia's largest phone firm, owns 30 percent of Warid, which has invested $800 million in Pakistan since 2005.

"We plan to invest another $800 million building networks and increasing our subscriber base," Tahir said.

The firm would seek loans from banks and export credit agencies to finance the network expansion, with work being done by Sweden's Ericsson and China's Huawei, Tahir added.
Abu Dhabi Group would target under-penetrated mobile phone markets where growth potential is high, Tahir said, estimating that only about 40% of Pakistan's 160 million people have mobile phones.

Abu Dhabi Group has also invested $250 million in Uganda and the Republic of Congo as it prepares to start mobile phone operations there, Tahir said.

In Uganda, a country of 28 million people, market penetration does not exceed 9 percent.

"We are building the network and our plan is to launch services in November, latest before year-end in both countries," Tahir said.

The company is also planning to set up operations in Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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