Having decided not to bid for a mobile licence in Syria, France Telecom (FT) Orange has confirmed that it will continue to look for expansion in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) via two to three acquistions per year, despite political unrest in the region.
Elie Girard, FT Orange's vice president of strategy and development, said that the company's priority was to identify countries with low mobile penetration and high growth potential. "We want to build a real centre of activity in the Middle East but very carefully," the exec said in an interview with Reuters. Girard said the company's decision not to bid for a Syrian mobile licence was based on the high price being expected for the licence and the poor spectrum on offer.
Commenting on the recent political upheavals in the Middle East, Girard said that these events were not altering the company's ambitions. "We are advancing at the right pace, I think...two or three reasonable acquisitions a year depending on the opportunities we see."
However, FT Orange could be impacted by the recent decision of the new Tunisian authorities to seize a controlling stake in Orange Tunisie that was held by the son-in-law of ousted leader Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali. The interim government has said that a review of the JV, of which FT Orange owns 49 per cent, would likely take six months.
Regardless of this issue, Girard was upbeat about the outlook for Korek Telecom, an Iraqi mobile operator in which France Telecom recently purchased a minority stake for €175 million. "There is huge growth potential in Iraq," said Girard, adding that Korek would grow some 30 per cent a year.
In line with FT's corporate strategy to double revenues from emerging markets to €7 billion by 2015, Girard said that this was achievable if the company increased its minority holding it has with operators in Tunisia, Morocco and Iraq via options already agreed with the other JV shareholders.
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