With FRiENDi like this, who needs enemies? MVNO firm eyes up Virgin SA

22 May 2012

Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is planning to dilute its shareholding in mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) Virgin Mobile South Africa by selling a portion of its shares to Dubai’s FRiENDi Group, TechCentral reports. The article coincides with rumours that Virgin Mobile South Africa CEO Steve Bailey has decided to step down, and plans to quit the company at the end of this month. Citing a ‘well-placed source’, TechCentral reports that Virgin will reduce its 55% stake in the MVNO to a ‘minority position’ to facilitate FRiENDi’s purchase, although specific shareholding percentages have not yet been disclosed.

It is understood that Virgin’s co-shareholder, Bahamas-based Calico Investments (45%), will retain its stake in the venture, and that, in addition, Virgin, Calico and FRiENDi intend to work together to pursue MVNO opportunities elsewhere in Africa through a newly structured holding company, although the final agreement has not yet been signed. FRiENDi, which currently operates MVNOs in Oman and Jordan, with an additional ‘partnership deal’ in place with Zain Saudi Arabia, has long harboured dreams of expanding its core operations, and in December 2011 chief executive Mikkel Vinter revealed that the company planned to acquire up to five MVNO licences covering the Middle East and North Africa.

South Africa, Virgin Mobile (South Africa), Virgin Mobile MEA (formerly FRiENDi Group), Virgin Mobile UK