DoCoMo looks to trump Vodafone in Asia

Having just reported a strong set of financial results, NTT DoCoMo looks set to spoil Vodafone's Asian ambitions by opening direct negotiations with the Bangladeshi operator Aktel. Vodafone had been quietly discussing with Aktel--the #3 operator in the country, for some months to acquire the 30 per cent shareholding that DoCoMo is now interested in purchasing.

The shareholding, valued at US$300 million, is currently owned by AK Khan, a privately owned textiles-to-telecoms company. The remaining 70 per cent is held by Telekom Malaysia which has just divested its mobile assets into a separate company, fueling speculation that it may itself be subject to a buyout or merger. DoCoMo has for several years looked to expand its presence in Asia, but was held back by heavy losses in its home market and was then outbid by Vodafone when it acquired the Essar cell phone operator in India.

Whether Vodafone will remain in the bidding is questionable--it has a track record of pulling out of a bidding war, most noticeable with the ongoing South Africa MTN saga, and the fact that Etisalat recently outbid Vodafone 4:1, or US$1.8 billion against Vodafone's US$550 million, for a telecom venture in Jeddah.

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