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Branson's Virgin eyes new Middle East markets

Virgin Group inks partnership deal with Dubai firm; plans to launch into new MENA markets

(l) Mikkel Vinter and Richard Branson announce the deal.
(l) Mikkel Vinter and Richard Branson announce the deal.

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group said on Monday it has signed a partnership agreement with Dubai-based mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) FRiENDi Group to expand into new Middle East markets.

Subject to local authority clearances, the two companies will merge their regional telecom operations to create a combined entity called Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa (VMMEA), which will develop and operate mobile telecommunications businesses across the region.

The combined group will manage the current operations of Virgin Mobile in South Africa and FRiENDi Group in Oman, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, creating a regional mobile telecom player with more than 1 million customers.

"Virgin and FRiENDi Group have complementary brands across their respective demographic targets and both are focusing on providing great customer service and value for money," the companies said in a statement.

The new group said it has plans to launch into more markets across the Middle East and Africa, and is targeting a regional customer base of over 5 million subscribers by 2015.

Sir Richard Branson, founder and president of Virgin, said: "We are delighted to have agreed this strategic partnership with FRiENDi GROUP to create Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa, and together we will create the undisputed regional leader in the MVNO space.

"Virgin and FRiENDi Group bring complementary skills and assets to the new venture and I have great confidence in its future success."

Mikkel Vinter, CEO and founder of FRiENDi Group, added: "I am excited about working closely with Virgin Group on rolling out new MVNO operations across Africa and the Middle East."

Upon completion of the deal, Virgin Group will become the largest individual shareholder of the combined group holding a significant minority stake. VMMEA will be led by Vinter and will be headquartered in Dubai.