Etisalat chairman Mohammed Hassan Omran has been instrumental in shaping the country’s first telecom provider. (SUPPLIED)
With almost ten million customers, etisalat is looking beyond the Arabian Gulf market. Chairman Mohammed Hassan Omran discusses his plan of action in an interview with Emirates Business 24/7.
—You applied for the second mobile licence in Qatar. What do you expect?
Etisalat has presented the best technical offer and that is why we are optimistic of obtaining the licence. We are expecting good news over the coming few days.
—Apart from etisalat’s Qatar operations, what is the current value of your foreign investments?
The total value of investments and acquisitions made by etisalat, unilaterally or through alliances, over the past three years has amounted to some Dh30 billion, financed by credit facilities.
—What about the new markets you intend to invest in?
Currently we have set our eyes on a number of investment opportunities in a number of countries, including some in the Middle East. The final decisions will be announced later. And as you know, these acquisitions depend on the type of opportunities in the coming phase and whether they comply with etisalat’s criteria and strategies of investment in world markets.
—You now have a new local competitor, so how would you assess the experience with your competition?
We are satisfied with the level of competition in the country’s communications sector. And we were expecting the competition to start a long time ago. However, the emergence of a new player in the UAE communications sector has proved the etisalat’s management and technical efficiency as well as its ability to deal with the new developments of the market. Of course we encourage competition and have the qualities to be in the lead. For instance etisalat prices, especially those of mobile phones, are the best in the region so far. Etisalat offers local call services from the land line for free.
—What do you think of the average cost of etisalat services in the United Arab Emirates in general?
The UAE consumers have the desire to shoulder more costs in exchange for advanced communications services which are useful for their business. Etisalat rates are the cheapest in the region, especially in the mobile phone sector.
—What are the latest statistics on Etisalat’s performance in the UAE?
The rate of etisalat spread in the UAE amounts to 150 per cent, serving 6.3 million subscribers. By the end of June 2007 the number of land lines reached 1.31 million while that of internet subscribers amounted to 800,000. And the new one million subscribers in the mobile market the same year du entered the market shows the quality services furnished by etisalat. Worldwide, etisalat has some 444 roaming partners.
—What about profits?
Etisalat netted Dh5.5bn during the first nine months of 2007. The results proved the company’s huge potential and competitiveness at domestic and overseas levels.
—You have investments in more than one country. In what countries do you seek to boost your presence?
We in etisalat believe that our investments in Pakistan are strategically important since it is a big, promising and encouraging market for expansion of services and investments. We currently own 26 per cent of the market as well as the right to management. Our main objective is to make investment in Pakistan a success and to meet needs for land, mobile and super-speed internet lines. Also we renewed the commitment to update networks, techniques and infrastructures to be able to offer subscribers a variety of distinguished and advanced services.
—Do you intend to increase your share in the Pakistani market?
This is something that has been raised from the beginning and is still under study, but no decision has been made yet.
—Do you have a similar scenario in Egypt?
Almost, we intend to compete for the second fixed line licence, which will be open early next year as announced by the Egyptian Government.
—Do you not think the competition will be tougher in a country like Egypt?
Egypt is a promising market. As far as we are concerned, we will cover Egypt in three to five years. We will announce new objectives related to our performance in the Egyptian market. The rate of mobile phone users in Egypt now exceeds 20 per cent which is expected to grow to 50 per cent over the coming three years; that is, some 40 million subscribers. And we hope to have 10 million of these subscribers over the same period. We managed to have one million subscribers in only 50 days from the commercial launch.
—Evaluate your experience in Egypt?
Our performance in Egypt is very strong and has exceeded expectations because etisalat policy in new markets is based on focusing on quality services. In Egypt, etisalat started operations by covering more than 40 cities. Now we cover 200. And we expect to cover the whole country in three to five years. Etisalat has actually raised its share in Atlantic Telecom by 20 per cent.
—What about opportunities in Algeria?
Algeria too is a promising market, and we are currently studying the situation there closely and look forward to obtaining what is up for sale by the Algerian Government. We still watch for its [government] decision on the sale and its size and will then start the procedures which are preceded by evaluation based on opinions of world consultants.
—And how do you intend to finance such expansions?
Etisalat in general relies on two sources to finance its expansion and investments. When there is an eventual opportunity, the company partly or totally self-finances the project. And it might obtain bank loans which it can get in no time and very easily, given the good reputation etisalat enjoys locally, regionally and even worldwide.