The increase in profits was mainly due to a 49 per cent rise in revenues, driven by a 141 per cent increase in its regional subscriber base. The company declared an 80 per cent cash dividend and a 5 per cent bonus share issue. Wataniya now has more than 7 million customers spread across its five mobile markets - Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Tunisia and the Maldives.
Wataniya International is looking to boost its regional presence further. 'We are bidding on Egypt, Iraq and if it comes up we will certainly be interested in the second Qatar licence,' said chief executive officer Ahmad Haleem on 5 April in Dubai. 'Saudi Arabia is definitely a market we are evaluating, and we are also looking outside the region and at acquisitions.'
Commenting on Iraq, where its licence is up for a competitive renewal, Haleem affirmed Wataniya's commitment to the market. 'Iraq is very important for us,' he said. 'It's an important asset. When we entered the market, we took the risk and we did not go there to get out now.'
However, there was less enthusiasm on the prospect of a third GSM operator entering Wataniya's home turf of Kuwait. 'As an operator there, I'd say it's not something we need,' said Haleem. 'There is already a high penetration rate in the state and it's also a high-tech market, so it will be tough. But we will compete against any new operator.'
(See Telecoms, page 29)