x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Etisalat to focus on developing existing networks

Etisalat will not focus on new acquisitions in the near future and will instead concentrate on expanding its existing networks.

Etisalat says it will not be focusing on new acquisitions for the foreseeable future.

The telecommunications operator will instead concentrate on expanding its networks in countries where it already operates, including the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, said the company's chairman, Mohammed Omran, who spoke at a conference in Amman this week.

The news comes months after Etisalat ended talks to purchase a majority stake in Zain, the largest phone company in Kuwait, after citing a shareholder dispute at Zain, regional unrest and an extended due diligence process. Etisalat also later said the deal broke down because of a Kuwaiti law that would have almost doubled the cost of the US$12 billion (Dh44.07bn) transaction.

Earlier this year, Mr Omran said Etisalat had allocated $2bn to expanding its fibre-optic network in the Emirates. Some analysts say this could do more to help the business in the short term than would be achieved through increasing market share by entering new countries.

"I think that's a very good strategy because you're increasing call quality with customers you have," said Thomas Kuruvilla, the managing director of Arthur D Little Middle East, a consultancy that focuses on the telecoms industry. "Attracting new customers on existing networks always gives you a higher return than getting customers on a new network, because you have to invest [more]," he said.

Mr Kuruvilla also said the approach could help the company to better compete with du, its rival UAE telecoms operator, which has enjoyed recent growth.

In the first three months of this year, Etisalat lost 334,000 subscribers, while du added 272,000. A survey of six analysts conducted this year by The National also found that du could take half of the mobile market in the UAE by the start of next year.

Etisalat's decision to avoid new acquisitions also means the company's $8bn bond and sukuk programme is now on hold and will not be used this year, Mr Omran said. The scheme, which Etisalat put together last year, was part of its financing plan to buy a majority stake in Zain.

* with Dow Jones