Mobile service providers Virgin Group and FRiENDi GROUP have announced a strategic partnership deal to merge their regional assets and accelerate expansion in the Middle East and Africa. The combined group will manage the current operations of Virgin Mobile in South Africa and FRiENDi in Oman, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, creating a regional mobile services player with more than a million customers. Subject to local authority clearances, the two groups will merge their regional telecom operations to create a combined entity under the name Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa (VMMEA), which will develop and operate mobile telecommunications businesses across the region. In addition, the new group plans to further strengthen its position across the region by launching in more markets across the Middle East and Africa, and is targeting a regional customer base of over five million subscribers by 2015, across both the Virgin Mobile and FRiENDi mobile brands. ‘We are delighted to have agreed this strategic partnership with FRiENDi GROUP to create Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa, and together we will create the undisputed regional leader in the MVNO space’, commented Sir Richard Branson, founder and president of Virgin, adding: ‘Virgin and FRiENDi GROUP bring complementary skills and assets to the new venture and I have great confidence in its future success.’ Upon completion of the deal, Virgin Group will become the largest individual shareholder of the combined group, holding a ‘significant minority stake’. VMMEA will be led by FRiENDi GROUP CEO and founder Mikkel Vinter, and will be headquartered in Dubai, UAE.