“Our board has taken the decision to pursue the third license in Syria. We are going into Syria…and we think it is an important country to be in,” Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohamed bin Saud al-Thani said after his company’s annual general meeting on Sunday (27 March), according to the Gulf Times.
When asked whether the current unrest in the south of Syria has had any bearing on the group’s plans, Sheikh Abdullah reportedly said: “Absolutely not.”
The Syrian Government has stipulated the licence will be awarded “by way of a multiple round auction with confidential bidding” from applicants who got through the initial phase. As well as Qtel, the remaining players are thought to include Etisalat of the UAE, Saudi Telecom (STC), France Telecom and Turkey’s Turkcell.
The chairman said Qtel has not yet taken any decision on whether to issue fresh bonds to raise capital to fund such a bid, which if successful would see the Qatari company compete for mobile subscribers with Syria’s existing operators SyriaTel, majority owned by local businessman Rami Makhlouf, and South Africa’s MTN.
Between them, these two operators have a mobile subscriber base of about 10.4 million, according to Syria’s Ministry of Telecommunications. Syria’s total population is currently estimated to be about 22 million.
Addressing the general assembly at Qtel’s AGM, Sheikh Abdullah said: “We are investing in the infrastructure that will develop our offering across all markets by focusing on diversification and advanced services like home and mobile broadband which will realise high value for our operations.
“At the same time, we are enhancing and expanding our capabilities around several defining areas that show potential for growth and profits, including digital services, social media and mobility. We will continue to invest in assets and innovations that will set Qtel ahead of its competitors,” he added.