Etisalat Ups Africa Investment

United Arab Emirates-based Etisalat has boosted its stake in African operator Atlantique Telecom as it embarks on a new phase of international expansion.

In a notice to the Abu Dhabi exchange Monday, Etisalat said it has increased its holding in the company from 70 percent to 82 percent, although it didn't state how much it paid.

Atlantique operates mobile services in seven countries: Ivory Coast, Benin, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Niger, Togo, and the Central African Republic, and Etisalat has a 10-year management contract with the company that expires in April 2015.

Etisalat is in the process of rolling out a mobile network in Nigeria, where it partners license holder Mubadala Development Company. (See Mudabala Gets Nigeria License and Nigeria Awards Spectrum.)

At last week's ITU Telecom Africa event, Mohammed Omran, Etisalat's chairman, said he expects the company's operations in Africa to account for at least 25 percent of revenues within three of four years, with 4 million customers added in West Africa by the end of 2010.

The operator reported revenues of AED6.06 billion ($1.65 billion) for the first quarter of this year. (See Etisalat Reports 1Q08.)

And Etisalat is looking to make further acquisitions, having expressed an interest in bidding for pan-African carrier Mobile Telephone Networks (MTN) , which is in M&A talks with India's Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL). (See MTN Becomes M&A Magnet.)

Etisalat is also lining up options in the Middle East and Asia. The carrier has held discussions with Spice Telecom , a regional operator in India, and has been linked to a stake sale at Tata Teleservices Ltd. (See Etisalat Eyes India's Spice.)

It's reportedly in talks with the Iranian government over the country's third national mobile license, which is scheduled for auction in the second half of this year, and it's mulling over whether to jump into the upcoming auction for Bahrain's third mobile license.

Etisalat, which owns pieces of operators in Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Afghanistan, expects to get its first credit rating by the end of June to help push down the cost of borrowing to finance the expansion kick.

— Nicole Willing, Reporter, Light Reading

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