x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Saudi Telecom Company's optimism on Syria mobile phone licence

Saudi Telecom Company says it is optimistic it 'will win' Syrian license bid despite political unrest; plans to invest more than $1 billion in infrastructure globally.

Saudi Telecom Company (STC) is optimistic it will win a bid for a mobile operating licence in Syria, despite a delay to the auction process due to escalating anti-government protests.

The Syrian mobile market is seen by analysts as having strong growth potential, but the auction of its third mobile licence has been delayed due to the political unrest.

Saud Al Daweesh, chief executive of STC, said the company is still pursuing the licence, and its confident of success.

"We will win," said Mr Al Daweesh. "Of course we are interested, we are very much interested."

He added that STC has not yet heard back from Syrian authorities regarding a decision over the licence. "It has been delayed. We are waiting for their answers," he said.

Mr Al Daweesh added that the Syrian mobile market represented a good strategic fit to other markets in which STC operates, such as Turkey and the Gulf. "Syria was identified by our board as strategic for STC to expand [in] the Middle East".

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.

Some operators cited concerns over a 25 per cent revenue share demanded by Syria, although STC points to the opportunity there given the relative low use of mobile phones.

Meanwhile, STC said that it plans to invest more than $1 billion this year in infrastructure across its global operations, with a focus on its Indonesia business.

"STC plans to invest around $450 million on the Indonesian operations," Ghassan Hasbani, STC's chief executive of international operations, told Zawya Dow Jones. "We're focusing on infrastructure. This will be done through debt and shareholder loans."