Etisalat drops Syria licence bid

Etisalat has dropped its bid for Syria's third mobile license, citing unfavourable terms and conditions.

Etisalat has dropped its bid for Syria's third mobile licence, less than two weeks after the collapse of the UAE company's US$12 billion (Dh44.07bn) takeover of its Kuwaiti rival Zain.

The company qualified to bid for the Syria licence last year but has dropped out of the process, in what is the latest setback to its international expansion plans.

"We hoped that the terms and conditions for the licence would have been more attractive," said Ahmed bin Ali, the spokesman for Etisalat.

The company did not give further details. However, it was reported that Etisalat was unhappy with a 25 per cent revenue share demanded by Syria, according to MEED, the Middle East Economic Digest. The bid would have been worth a minimum of $122 million, MEED said.

Irfan Ellam, a telecoms analyst with Al Mal Capital, said the Syria market was attractive because of its large population and low mobile penetration. "There's a lot of scope for growth there."

Mr Ellam said, however, that Etisalat's decision not to bid could have been "wise".

"If someone is taking 25 per cent off the top, it really makes it difficult to make money in those kinds of markets - especially given that Etisalat's income margin in 2010 was 24 per cent," he said.

"It brings into question the financial viability of the investment. If it's not going to be profitable, then it's not a missed opportunity."

France Telecom, Qatar Telecom, Turkcell and Saudi Telecom have also qualified to bid for the Syria licence.

"It gives the other buyers reason to go back to their spreadsheets. This may cause the other bidders to reconsider their offers," said Mr Ellam.

Etisalat announced this month that its offer for Zain had collapsed, with its offer of 1.7 dinars a share was "no longer viable".

Mr Ellam said the failed Syria bid did "raise some cause for concern" over Etisalat's regional expansion. The company was looking at licences in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon - with only the latter two countries now viable options.

"They could look more towards Asia, South East Asia. But again, there are limited options there," he said.