Telecoms commissioner welcomes Vodafone takeover of bemobile

17 Apr 2013

In an interview with the Solomon Star newspaper, Solomon Islands’ telecoms commissioner Bernard Hill has welcomed the news of domestic mobile operator bemobile’s transfer to the management of Vodafone Fiji, a 49% owned unit of UK-based mobile giant Vodafone Group. Hill noted that the Telecommunications Commission of Solomon Islands (TCSI) has no objections to the change in personnel, and suggested that the move will secure competition in the telecoms sector over the long term, with the new tie-up likely to lead to ‘significant investment in new network assets’. Hill told the Solomon Star: ‘When a company like Vodafone takes an interest in a market of this size, there is no question that it represents an endorsement of the local economy and is a very positive realisation of Solomon Island’s growth potential. Vodafone brings a wealth of international and regional experience to the local market, which will substantially strengthen bemobile’s competitiveness. In the Commission’s discussions with bemobile, the company has acknowledged that its original targets for national coverage which led to its winning the contest for a second GSM mobile licence in 2009, was overly ambitious, and that it had failed to meet the thresholds under its performance bond … Even though bemobile did not do all it said it would, competition has been effective in extending mobile service coverage to some 80% of the population at today’s date. And total subscriber numbers have gone from 57,000 in 2009 to over 300,000 at the end of 2012. Most importantly, even though services are still expensive for many people, many of them do have a choice of services, and prices have declined steadily over the last three years’.

As part of the change in ownership, bemobile is surrendering the individual licence it won in 2009, and it will from now on operate under a general ‘Class Licence’, which the TCSI introduced in September 2011. According to the partnership between Vodafone and bemobile in Solomon Islands will be formally unveiled at a press conference in Honiara on Thursday evening.

A Papua New Guinea national parliament press release earlier this week confirmed that the Independent Public Business Corporation (IPBC) of PNG and the Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF) – ‘as the existing shareholders of bemobile Ltd’ – and Vodafone Fiji were to sign an agreement ‘recapitalising bemobile and formalising a strategic partnership with Vodafone Fiji’. The deal will see the IPBC increase its shareholding in the bemobile Group to 51%, with the FNPF acquiring a 40% stake in the company. Existing shareholders, including the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and a number of major PNG superannuation funds (PNGSDP, Nambawan Super/Nasfund and GEMS) will retain the remaining 9% stake.