State-run Saudi Telecom Co (STC) is optimistic about winning Syria's third mobile licence award but is yet to hear when the next stage of the auction will resume, its chief executive said.
Syria's security forces have been embroiled in a deadly crackdown against protesters in a seven-week-old uprising, spurring the embattled government to delay announcing the licence winner.
STC, the largest Gulf Arab telecoms operator by annual revenue, and Qatar Telecom are the final bidders after three others - France Telecom, the UAE's Etisalat and Turkcell - withdrew in March, unhappy at some of the licence requirements.
STC said in April the final phase of the auction would be on April 27. Syria started a tender to sell the third mobile operator licence in September.
"Officially, we have received from them [Syria] that they will inform us of the next date for opening the bids and starting the auction, but we are still waiting," Daweesh said in an interview.
"We are very optimistic ... we connect Syria with the rest of our portfolio, which is 70 to 80 percent of the Muslim world."
Syria's two existing mobile phone operators are South Africa's MTN and Syriatel, which is owned mostly by Syrian businessman Rami Makhlouf.
Domestic take-up of mobile and fixed broadband services and its international operations will drive STC's growth, with the former monopoly hunting for new foreign acquisitions. Non-Saudi operations provide about a third of revenue.
"We are scanning the places around our portfolio, such as in the Middle East or Turkish area, because we have three clusters - STC Viva in the GCC, the Turkey cluster and the Maxis cluster in southeast Asia," said Daweesh.
STC this month signed a roaming agreement with Zain Saudi, giving the latter coverage of 98 to 99 percent of Saudi Arabia, Daweesh said, but STC and another rival, Etihad Etisalat (Mobily), are not in talks to merge and sell off their towers businesses, Daweesh said.
"We have not talked about this," said Daweesh. When asked if STC would consider this, Daweesh replied "not yet."
STC faces increased competition from Mobily and Zain Saudi in its home market, the biggest Arab economy.
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