Regional firms are going global

Whilst the world’s big telcos talk about emerging market opportunities, operators from the Middle East are going global.

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By  Administrator Published  September 8, 2007

While the world's telecomms operators talk about growth potential in emerging markets, operators from the Middle East are actually going global. Granted, much of this activity has been focused on acquiring operators in neighbouring countries, but there is no denying the global ambitions of regional operators.

Mohammed Hassan Omran, the jovial chairman of Etisalat, is clear about his company's ambition: to become one of the leading telecommunications service providers in the world.

The company is already on its way, with mobile networks in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, and its eyes on new licenses in several other countries. Etisalat's satellite communications subsidiary, Thuraya, is also increasing its coverage area and now covers most of the globe. As it increases its coverage area, and thus the number of customers to which it can offer services, it is also lowering prices on calls and handsets.

Qatar-based Qtel has global ambitions of its own. Earlier this year, it paid out a whopping US $3.7 billion to buy 51% of Kuwait's Wataniya. This immediately gave it ownership stakes in networks in Algeria, Tunisia, Kuwait and the Maldives. With its deep pockets, it looks set to continue bidding for regional licenses as they come up for grabs.

One of the first regional operators to go global was Egypt's Orascom. Its initial overseas drive stumbled earlier this decade when it encountered financial problems and had to sell off many of its African assets. After emerging from these problems, the company has embarked on another acquisition drive.

Last year, it took a controlling stake in an Italian telecomms operator and it recently acquired Greek operator TIM Hellas. The Italian company has reportedly piled on earnings and customers since its takeover.

One of the most ‘hungry' regional operators has been MTC, whose chairman, Saad Al Barrak, has made no secret of his desire to be global. MTC, which is currently rebranding itself as ‘Zain', owns a network of operations across the Middle East and Africa. Such are its ambitions, that it is reportedly mulling over moving its entire operations to a European country.

From all these examples, it's clear that regional telcos have the ambition and the cash to become truly global players. The overseas acquisitions are likely to continue for many years to come.

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