x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Saudi Telecom Company and Qatar Telecom - rivals for Syrian licence - unfazed by Syria protests

Saudi Telecom Company is pursuing a bid to run a mobile business in Syria despite the auction of an operating licence in the country having been postponed because of escalating anti-government protests.

Saudi Telecom Company is pursuing a bid to run a mobile business in Syria despite the auction of an operating licence in the country having been postponed because of escalating anti-government protests.

The Saudi company, also called STC, and its rival Qatar Telecom are the only major companies left in the running for the licence, after others including Etisalat, France Telecom and Turkcell withdrew their bids amid concerns over a 25 per cent revenue share demanded by Syria.

The auction for Syria's third mobile licence was set for Wednesday, but has been delayed because of escalating violence and political instability in the Arab state.

Ghassan Hasbani, the chief executive of STC International, said the company intended to pursue the bid for the licence, citing high growth potential in the Syrian market. "We made the decision to stay in the race," said Mr Hasbani. "There may be a delay in the date of the auction, but they have not cancelled the process."

He said STC had factored into its bid the 25 per cent revenue share demanded by the Syrian government.

"Everyone made their calculations … We have accounted for the fee, for the revenue share of 25 per cent into our numbers. And obviously that has been accounted for in what we intend to pay for the licence," he said.

Mr Hasbani said there was a strong potential for growth in the Syrian mobile market. "Syria is one of the few remaining markets where [mobile phone] penetration is very low, and growth potential is extremely high," he said. "The telecoms traffic between Saudi Arabia and Syria is quite high. There are a lot of synergies on the operational side."

Political instability and the delay in the licence bid has not deterred STC's rival Qatar Telecom in its attempt to enter the Syria market. "Qtel remains firmly interested in pursuing the third licence in Syria," a spokesman for the company told Dow Jones last week.

The delay in the bid comes as the Syrian president, Bashar al Assad, grapples to contain anti-government protests in the country, in which dozens of people are reported to have been killed.

 

bflanagan@thenational.ae