25 Sep 2008

Middle East face European competitors at home and go hunting for new markets worldwide

I expect the discussions and the audience profile at our annual GSM>3G Middle East event in Dubai to reflect the flow of strategic telecoms investment monies into and out of the Gulf region.

Vodafone is entering the Qatari market and is set to offer both mobile and fixed-line services. Turkcell has been interested in extending its footprint into the Middle East for some time. After an abortive attempt to enter the Iranian market in 2005-06, the Turkish MNO has more recently been rumoured to have an interest in Syria. Both of these companies are represented at CxO level at our conference.

Telcos headquartered in the Middle East, meanwhile, have been shopping for opportunities in emerging markets in other regions. For example, the African mobile scene is now dotted with subsidiaries of Zain, Etisalat and Comium.

The next target looks to be India. Telecoms.com yesterday reported Etisalat's agreement to buy 45% of Indian mobile operator Swan Telecom for $900m in cash, with the UAE telco's Chairman Mohammad Hassan Omran, commenting: "Our entry in India, one of the largest and fastest growing mobile markets in the world today, marks an acceleration of our expansion strategy and brings to us an opportunity which matches the scale of our ambitions."

Etisalat, leading sponsor of our December conference and exhibition in Dubai, will doubtless field many questions from participants about this and other elements of the company's international expansion strategy.