Warid Telecom of Abu Dhabi continues to lower its global profile as the Indian telecommunications company Bharti Airtel has obtained the approval of the Bangladeshi regulator to buy a controlling stake in Warid's mobile network there. Warid Telecom is a unit of the Dhabi Group, the US$10 billion (Dh36.73bn) investment fund owned by members of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family. It has invested billions in building and operating mobile networks in Africa and Asia.
Bharti will acquire 70 per cent of Warid's Bangladeshi network at an undisclosed price in the deal that was announced late last year. It will invest $300 million in upgrading the network this year, the country's telecoms regulator said. Warid will retain a holding in the network. Industry observers speculate that the Bangladeshi operation could be valued at $1bn. Representatives of Warid did not respond to requests for comment, and representatives of Bharti could not be reached.
Warid has about 3 million subscribers in Bangladesh, making it the fourth-largest of the country's six networks. Multinational operators including Egypt's Orascom Telecom and Japan's NTT DoCoMo have made large investments into Bangladesh in recent years, one of the fastest growing markets in Asia. With this approval, Warid will now only control a mobile network in Pakistan, where it operates the country's fourth-largest network with about 19 million customers and a 20 per cent share of the market.
Warid Pakistan is a joint venture with Singapore's SingTel, which owns 30 per cent. SingTel also owns a 32 per cent stake in Bharti. Last year, the Dhabi Group announced that it would sell a controlling stake in its two largest African networks to Essar, another large Indian telecoms operator. Both companies declined to discuss the value of the transaction, but in a joint statement said the two networks were worth almost $320m.
Warid will remain a minority investor in both the African and Bangladeshi networks. For Bharti, India's largest mobile operator, the deal represents the kind of small, cautious overseas purchases that analysts expect will characterise the company's international expansion in the coming years. Last year, Bharti attempted to merge with MTN, Africa's largest operator, in a $25bn deal that would have created the world's third-largest mobile company. The deal stalled and was eventually called off due to the political and financial complexity of merging the two emerging-markets specialists.