Saudi Telecom to compete with Zain for Omantel stake

17 October 2008

The Middle East’s largest telecoms operator, Saudi Telecom, will compete with Kuwaiti mobile operator Zain in the auction for a 25 per cent stake in Oman’s state-owned operator, Omantel.

One senior manager at Saudi Telecom tells MEED the telecoms giant submitted a bid for the stake shortly before the Finance Ministry’s bid deadline of 1 October.

Eight telecoms operators prequalified for the auction, which is being run by the Finance Ministry, but until now only Zain has confirmed it has successfully prequalified.

Zain has also made a formal offer for the stake, according to a spokesman for the Kuwaiti company. “It goes without saying that if we qualified, then we definitely bid,” he says.

Zain is likely to sell Omantel’s fixed-line business if it wins the stake, as it has a policy of only acquiring mobile phone businesses.

Etisalat, the giant UAE operator, is also expected to bid for the stake in Omantel, after saying it was likely last year (MEED 12:10:07).

The winner of the stake will compete with Qatar’s Qtel, which owns the second mobile phone licence in Oman through its subsidiary Nawras.

Omantel is the market leader, with 1.6 million mobile phone customers at the end of June this year, compared with Nawras’s 1.25 million.

The country’s telecoms regulator, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, is separately holding an auction for a second fixed-line operator.

Qtel and Noor Financial Investment, a Kuwaiti conglomerate, have both bid for the fixed-line licence. The regulator expects to announce the winner of the licence by the end of October.

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