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Tue 23 Dec 2008 02:40 PM

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Etisalat says it is highest bidder for Iran licence

UPDATE 1: Iranian regulator puts telecom 'first among others in terms of financial offer'.

UAE telecom Etisalat said on Tuesday it was part of a consortium that had made the highest bid for Iran's third mobile telephone licence.

On Monday Iran's semi-official Fars news agency had said the licence had been won by Etisalat, citing an unnamed source at the Telecommunications Ministry.

Etisalat, the Arab world's second largest telecommunications firm by market value, said on Tuesday Iran's Communications Regulatory Authority had placed the UAE-based firm "first among others in terms of financial offer".

It said the final announcement of the winner would be made after official approvals. The consortium also includes Iran's Tamin Telecom. Iranian state radio said the non-Iranian firm would have a 49 percent stake in the project.

Among other consortiums that bid for the licence were Oman's Omantel and a Malaysian firm.

The two existing operators in Iran are the state telephone company and Irancell, a firm that is 49 percent owned by MTN Group, sub-Saharan Africa's biggest mobile firm.

Iran has a mobile penetration of less than 60 percent in a market where about half of its 70 million people are under 25 years of age.

Etisalat, which operates in 18 countries, is part of a wave of Gulf Arab telecom operators that have launched overseas operations after losing their monopolies at home.

Etisalat's shares were down 2.65 percent in an overall weaker market on the Abu Dhabi bourse.

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