Etisalat's push to gain mobile subscribers overseas will not see the UAE's largest public company returning to India, a senior executive has confirmed.
Etisalat has no intention of return to India market
Daniel Ritz, the chief strategy officer at Etisalat Group, said on the sidelines of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona that the telecoms operator had no intention of re-entering the market after being stripped of its mobile licence there in a major corporate scandal.
"We are not going back into India," said Mr Ritz. "We are not considering India for any of the licences, or an acquisition or joint venture."
Etisalat was forced to exit the market following allegations of corruption over the allocation of India's 2G mobile spectrum, which in February 2011 resulted in 122 of the country's wireless licences being cancelled. Etisalat eventually wrote off Dh3.04 billion (US$827.7 million) in an impairment charge, resulting in a net impact of Dh1.02bn on its profit.
The UAE operator entered India by buying a $900m, 45 per cent stake in Swan Telecom, which had acquired one of the licences sold at below-value rates. Etisalat was not implicated in any wrongdoing.
The Indian exchequer is believed to have lost out on $30bn to $40bn in potential earnings in what has been described as the country's biggest corruption scandal. India has since started to re-auction the licences. Bahrain's Batelco has been the only operator in the region to have expressed an interest in re-entering the Indian market via an acquisition.
Etisalat has a presence in 16 countries and close to 140 million subscribers. Mr Ritz hinted at possible mergers or acquisitions and partnerships in its existing locations to drive growth. "We are focusing on possibilities in our current markets; where we see opportunities in line with our strategy we will consider them," he said.
Etisalat has already expressed an interest in buying Vivendi's 53 per cent stake in Maroc Telecom.
The UAE operator has focused strongly on the emerging markets as announcements from the operator emerge at MWC this year.
Despite not looking to re-enter the India market itself, Etisalat yesterday announced a partnership with the country's Mahindra Comviva to provide low-cost mobile internet access on basic handsets across its operations in Africa and Asia. Following the agreement users will be able to gain access to email, social networking and messaging at an affordable price. Etisalat Nigeria will be the first to deploy the new services before it is rolled out across its other operations in the two regions.
"Nigeria has a vast population of young people, a majority of which are basic-phone holders with no or minimum data capabilities. As we continue to attract new customers to our network across various segments, it is our desire that we are able to address their needs to enjoy emailing, instant messaging, and social networking among other services no matter the type of handset they are using," said Steven Evans, the chief executive of Etisalat Nigeria.
Etisalat has also signed an agreement with Alcatel Lucent to test and deploy long-term evolution mobile internet in Sri Lanka.
"Sri Lanka is a fast moving country and is witnessing growth in its economy," said Jamal Al Jarwan, the chief regional officer of Etisalat Asia. "As an operation we are currently focused on broadband as a key initiative for future growth."
The company also renewed its sponsorship of FC Barcelona for four years. The previous deal was worth €4m (Dh19.6m) a year for four years. No indication of the value of the new deal was given.