Wataniya weighs up its options

26 May 2006

Wataniya Telecom is looking at expansion opportunities across the region and beyond, Wataniya chief executive officer Harri Koponen told MEED on 21 May. 'We are looking at what fits our portfolio. Saudi Arabia would fit, Qatar we're not so sure. We look at licences from a financial and functional point of view and look at the cost,' he said.

The company will seek the renewal of its Iraqi licence in a new licensing round expected in late 2006. There are three operators in Iraq and the regulator, the National Communications & Media Commission, has invited companies to prequalify for up to four licences. 'Iraq is a good market, a big nation with lots of potential in terms of subscriber base,' said Koponen. Mobile penetration is estimated at only 15-20 per cent of the state's 27 million population (MEED 24:2:06).

Wataniya is one of 11 companies bidding for the third GSM licence in Egypt, which Koponen expects to be awarded in the third quarter. The company is in arbitration with Egypt's Orascom Telecom at the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris over claims on Wataniya's 50 per cent stake in Orascom Telecom Tunisie (Tunisiana). Orascom maintains it has a contractual right to acquire the stake. 'There are challenges, particularly as Orascom is our partner and our competitor,' said Koponen. Orascom plans to bid for the third Saudi Arabian licence and competes with Wataniya for market share in Algeria and Iraq (MEED 12:5:06).

Wataniya has additional operations in the Maldives and Saudi Arabia, where it has a stake in Public Telecommunications Company (PTC). Its subsidiaries might list shares at some point in the future, Koponen said.

The company launched business services in Kuwait in March and plans to offer them elsewhere. 'We will launch business services in other places where there is a need,' said Koponen. 'In Iraq today, a mobile phone might save your life. Tomorrow, it will bring you business.'

In Kuwait, the government is proposing a third operator. 'We don't have anything against competition but it's going to be a challenge for the new operator and even for us. The market is fully penetrated and we know what it is to come to market as a new operator,' Koponen said.

Wataniya competes against former monopoly operator MTC in Kuwait, where mobile penetration is about 93 per cent. Wataniya has about 43 per cent market share.

Outside the Middle East, the company is also considering establishing operations in states of the former Soviet Union.


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