Vodafone nears Middle East partnership deal with Zain

Vodafone is close to striking a partnership deal with Kuwait-based operator Zain to get access to networks across the Middle East, according to multiple reports. Both Bloomberg and Reuters reported that a deal is close with Bloomberg noting that a formal announcement could come within days.

Under the agreement, Vodafone would offer customers lower roaming rates in a group of Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Bahrain. The deal would also include sharing handset-purchasing costs with Zain.

Vodafone wants to expand into countries where it has no direct presence or roaming deals, and has already signed accords with at least 10 Asian operators over the past 12 months to provide lower roaming tariffs and give subscribers and enterprise customers better network coverage, according to Bloomberg.

The UK-based company has a limited presence in the Middle East, only holding majority stakes in operators in Qatar and Egypt. France Telecom has also indicated its investment interests in the region by entering the Iraqi and Moroccan markets and boosting its stake in an Egyptian operator.

Zain disposed of its African assets in 2010 to Indian billionaire Sunil Mittal's Bharti Airtel, and missed an opportunity to sell control of the company last year after Etisalat abandoned a $12 billion offer for a majority holding in Zain.

Vodafone's chairman, Gerard Kleisterlee, told investors last month that the company is constantly considering whether it makes best use of its size, after being pushed to make further acquisitions.

For more:
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this Reuters article

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