A consortium led by UK-based Vodafone Group has won Qatar’s second mobile network operating licence, the peninsula’s regulator ictQATAR announced yesterday. The Vodafone & Qatar Foundation Consortium submitted the highest bid in the second round auction, ahead of two other eligible bidders, Argos Consortium (including US-based Verizon Communications and UK-owned Virgin Mobile) and the UAE’s Etisalat. ictQATAR had earlier also received bids from groups led by US-based AT&T (AT&T Qatar Mobile Consortium) and Kuwait’s Zain (formerly MTC) Group (MTC & Partners Consortium). Vodafone is expected to launch services in the country sometime during 2008. Dr Hessa Al-Jaber, ictQATAR Secretary General, said: This is an important milestone in the liberalisation of the telecommunications market in Qatar. The introduction of competition will benefit the people and economy.’ State-controlled Qatar Telecom (Qtel) currently runs the last remaining mobile monopoly in the Arab world, as well as being Qatar’s only fixed line operator. A second national fixed line licence auction is expected to follow shortly.
Vodafone will not hold a majority stake in the Qatari mobile unit, but it is likely to be the largest individual shareholder. Its local consortium partner, the Qatar Foundation, is a non-profit organisation established by Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. The UK group’s CEO Arun Sarin has predicted that mobile operations in emerging markets will contribute a third of its earnings by 2012, up from 22% in the first half of the current fiscal year. Vodafone is interested in making more wireless acquisitions in Africa, Asia, and central and eastern Europe, and has not ruled out another purchase of a similar size to its USD10.9 billion takeover of India’s third largest cellco by subscribers, Hutchison Essar (now rebranded under the Vodafone banner).