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Sun 10 Jun 2012 06:19 PM

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Dubai's Friendi eyes six new telecom markets

Mobile virtual network operator sees major expansion to 2016 after Virgin Group deal

Dubai's Friendi eyes six new telecom markets
Virgin Group founder Richard Branson

Dubai group Friendi plans to expand into six more countries within four years after the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) agreed a strategic partnership with Richard Branson's Virgin Group, its chief executive told Reuters on Sunday.

Under the deal, Friendi will add Virgin Mobile's South African unit to its existing MVNO licences in Oman and Jordan. The company will be renamed Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa, with Virgin holding a minority stake to become the largest shareholder in the new entity.

No financial details of the transaction were provided.

MVNOs lease excess capacity from conventional telecoms operators and typically pay them a percentage of their revenue.

The new company will have more than one million subscribers, with about 300,000 from Virgin Mobile South Africa and the remainder from Friendi's Jordan and Oman operations. Friendi also provides branding and advisory services to Saudi Arabia's number three telecoms operator Zain Saudi.

"We have a target of growing to 5 million customers by 2015, so adding about a million customers per year for the next three to four years," Friendi chief executive Mikkel Vinter told Reuters.

"It's partly growth in existing markets, but also reasonably fast expansion across new markets. We have an ambition to get to 10 markets from the four we have today within a three- to four-year timeframe."

He declined to reveal which countries the company was targeting.

"We are looking at some markets in the Middle East, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and in South Asia," said Vinter.

"We have an ambition of at least one additional launch later this year."

The Virgin tie-up will likely be concluded within two months, pending regulatory approval.

"It's essentially a cash and shares deal where we're getting the South African business, the brand licence and some cash and they're getting some shares," he said.

This will also boost Friendi's plans to launch an initial public offering within the next two years.

"Virgin has an impressive track record of listing its businesses, which will give comfort to the exchanges and investors," added Vinter.

"There are two important parameters - the market needs to be ready, which is currently not the case, and we need to be ready, which is also not the case."

Vinter said no financial advisors had been named for the potential float.

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Mick 8 years ago

ooooh Etisalat and du won't like this.

K Fish 8 years ago

I have two questions and wonder if some of the experts on these discussion boards would enlighten me on these:

1. What exactly is a "mobile virtual network"?

2. There is a pickle I have seen called "Branson's Pickle". Is this also made by Richard Branson's Virgin Group?

C Hutney 8 years ago

These are excellent questions and I think I can help in answering them.
The pickle you refer to is the one you find yourself in when trying to figure out which UAE mobile network will rip you off the least.
The word "virtual" in the MVN term refers to the fact that you will almost (i.e. "virtually") get a service that works... but not quite.
It is a "NETwork" because you will be caught in it which, noting you are a Fish, is something you're used to.
I trust that's all now clear.

K Fish 8 years ago

Thank you Mr Hutney. Your scarism probably will rip both the networks. Perhaps you should make the C closer to Hutney to make it Chutney, then I will not have to look for Branson's Pickle.