x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Batelco pursues Zain in Saudi Arabia

Peter Kaliaropoulos, the group chief executive, says the operator would be interested in obtaining Zain Saudi Arabia but only at the right price.

Batelco Group could be in the running for Zain's Saudi Arabian mobile operations if Etisalat's US$10.5 billion (Dh38.56bn) offer to take control of Zain is successful, says the company's group chief executive. Etisalat's proposed offer to buy 46 per cent of Zain faces its greatest challenge in Saudi Arabia, where the two companies already have licences. The kingdom's telecommunications regulators are unlikely to accept a merger of the two operators because it would create an unintended duopoly.
Peter Kaliaropoulos, the group chief executive of Batelco, said the operator would be interested in obtaining Zain Saudi Arabia but only at the right price. "We're certainly interested in certain Middle Eastern assets and we're looking for all opportunities in the Middle East to invest in," said Mr Kaliaropoulos. Etisalat's bid of 1.7 Kuwaiti dinars, valuing the transaction at about $10.5bn, would give it control of Zain since 10 per cent of the shares are controlled by the operator's treasury department.
Analysts have observed that both Qatar Telecom and Batelco are the only regional operators that could make a legitimate play for Zain's Saudi Arabian assets. Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that the National Bank of Kuwait, the country's biggest lender, was in parallel talks to help find a buyer for Zain Saudi Arabia. A Dubai-based telecoms analyst who asked not to be identified said that acquiring the mobile telephone assets of Zain inside Saudi Arabia would enhance Batelco's position within the kingdom.
Batelco already operates a Wimax service called Etihad Atheeb that has about 24 per cent of the wireless broadband market.

dgeorgecosh@thenational.ae