Orascom Telecom Holding’s group CEO Khaled Bichara says the firm is ready to make a merger play in Bangladesh, where it operates no. 2 cellco Banglalink.
"We'll either buy someone or merge with someone by holding the majority stake, as we're…a size that is big enough [to do that] for the Bangladesh market," Bichara told the Daily Star.
He believes M&A is inevitable in the six-operator market “sooner or later."
The debt-ridden Egyptian firm has reportedly not slowed its investment in Banglalink, despite halting or winding back its investments in other countries amid the financial market crunch.
"We're a long-term investor,” Bichara said. “We're looking at [the] Bangladesh market from a long-term point of view. We believe we're not there to come in and come out very soon.”
The market is ultra-competitive, with only Telenor-backed Grameenphone in the black.
Grameenphone is the country’s dominant operator with 23.9 million customers at end-March, followed by Banglalink with 14.22 million subs and Axiata-controlled Robi (formerly Aktel) with 10.59 million subs.
Bharti and SingTel have stakes in the next biggest operators - Warid Telecom and CDMA operator Pacific Bangladesh – with 3.01 million and 1.91 million mobile users respectively.
In last place is government-owned CDMA operator Teletalk, which is preparing an IPO later this year to fund 2G and 3G network funds.
Latest reports are that the government is planning to allocate four 3G licenses this year, possibly via an auction.
Bichara says Orascom is “not in a rush” to get Banglalink to return a profit, blaming the country’s SIM tax on operators as the main reason for operator losses.
Globally, he says that Orascom is determined to become part of the world’s leading 10 telecoms groups, or risk being “left alone.”