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ST Telemedia on APAC Spree

Ray Le Maistre
3/15/2010
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Singapore Technologies Telemedia Pte. Ltd. (ST Telemedia) has added to its already significant international telecom services assets in the past few days, with its latest spree very much focused on Asia/Pacific.

The investment company today announced plans to buy a 33 percent stake in Malaysia's fourth mobile operator U Mobile, in a deal reportedly worth 625 million ringgit (US$189 million). U Mobile, which entered the market in September 2007 and recently upgraded its 3G services to HSPA, is by far the smallest of Malaysia's mobile players in a country with about 30 million people and a mobile penetration rate of 106 percent. While Maxis Communications Bhd. has about 12 million mobile customers, Celcom Malaysia more than 10 million, and DiGi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd. around 7.7 million, U Mobile has between 500,000 and 1 million customers.

But ST Telemedia appears to have faith in U Mobile's potential. In a prepared statement, ST Telemedia CEO Lee Theng Kiat stated that the Malaysian market "continues to provide potential for future growth... With its strong wireless and data focus, U Mobile will be a valuable addition to ST Telemedia’s mobile footprint and an excellent business fit for us."

And the analyst team at Pyramid Research offers some hope for U Mobile, believing that the new entrant stands a good chance of winning customers from Digi as 3G uptake increases during the next few years. In its report, "Communications Markets in Malaysia" from last year, the research house predicted that demand for mobile broadband services will rise sharply in the next three to four years and that the mobile penetration rate will continue to increase, providing room for growth in an already saturated market.

While that outlook might offer ST Telemedia cause for optimism, it wasn't enough to retain the interest of KT Freetel Co. and NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), both of which sold their stakes in U Mobile last year. (See Samsung Does WiMax in Iran.)

For ST Telemedia, the deal will add to its existing APAC assets, which include stakes in Singapore's StarHub , Cambodia's Mfone, and Lao Telecommunications Co. Ltd.

ST Telemedia also owns international services player Global Crossing (Nasdaq: GLBC) and (since early January 2010) Irish incumbent carrier eir , as well as satellite services player ST Teleport and Telechoice, which distributes mobile handsets and provides network engineering services in a number of APAC markets.

Global Crossing is particularly relevant to ST Telemedia's other recent, though much smaller, investment.

At the end of last week the company announced a new partnership with VNPT Global, the international arm of Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Corp. . ST Telemedia cemented that relationship by taking a 10 percent stake in VNPT Global, with the option to grow that stake in the future. (See ST Telemedia Invests in VNPT Global.)

The deal is reportedly valued at just US$1 million. Both parties feel the relationship will help VNPT Global develop its business, using ST Telemedia's assets and international relationships with other service providers.

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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