By John Irish
Firm bids for fixed and mobile licence, looks to boost customer base into North Africa.
UAE telecoms firm Emirates Telecommunications Co (Etisalat) said it has bid for a fixed and mobile licence in Libya as it looks to boost its customer base into North Africa, driving its shares higher.
"It is part of our strategy for expansion ... We have no investments in North Africa (besides Egypt) so this is a first step," the firm's chief financial officer, Salem Ali al-Sharhan, told Reuters by telephone from Switzerland on Tuesday.
Etisalat, the Gulf Arab region's second-largest telecommunication's firm by market value, said in a regulatory filing it submitted a bid to the Libyan General Telecommunications Authority on July 15.
The UAE firm will compete against Turkey's biggest mobile operator, Turkcell, which said on July 13 that it too had bid for the Libyan license, citing high growth potential.
OPEC member Libya is the latest North African state to allow private investors into the lucrative telecoms sector, after government officials repeatedly said the country did not need foreign private-sector involvement.
Libya has two state mobile phone operators, Libyana and Madar, to service a market of 5 million.
Etisalat's shares opened up 1.9 percent in Abu Dhabi.
Sharhan said Etisalat had yet to make a bid for a stake in Meditel, Morocco's second-largest telecoms firm.
Portugal Telecom has appointed Morgan Stanley to sell its 32 percent stake in Meditel, people familiar with the matter said in May.
In the same month Etisalat's chairman told Reuters it would bid for the Meditel stake as it seeks acquisitions in the Middle East and Africa after asset prices declined.
"We are still looking at Morocco, but will it materialise? It's not clear," Sharhan said on Tuesday.
Etisalat made a second-quarter net profit of AED2.41bn ($656.1m), down 19 percent from a year earlier but beating forecasts.
The company said on Friday that growth in revenues would help the firm expand and develop national and international business units.
The telecom firm has been expanding overseas as it faces stiffer competition in its home market of the UAE, where some analysts have predicted that job cuts could reduce population, weighing on profits of Etisalat and rival du.
Etisalat has more than 85 million subscribers and expects subscriber numbers to reach 100 million in 2010. (Reuters)