Airtel eyeing Vietnam,no buyouts

Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile operator, is exploring the possibility of launching operations in Vietnam. According to a company executive, Bharti would not be looking to buyout or pick up stake in existing Vietnamese companies, but was only considering setting up a greenfield company there.

Vietnam’s telecom sector was recently opened up following its accession to the WTO and this has resulted in numerous global telecom majors rushing in to set up JV operations here. Under Vietnamese law, foreign operators can own only 49% stake in telecom companies till 2010, and after this period the country will allow entirely-owned foreign firms. UK’s Vodafone, France Telecom and Norway’s Telenor have all recently opened offices in Vietnam to explore opportunities of setting up operations here.

Vietnam is considered as one of the world’s fastest growing mobile markets. The country that has a population of about 85 million has about 25 million mobile subscribers. Its telecom sector is registering a record annual growth of 30% plus. Vietnam already has six mobile operators but it is the three government-operated firms –-VinaPhone, MobiFone and the military-owned Viettel, which are the major players.

The Vietnamese government is also set to offload 49% stake in Vinafone and Mobifone soon.

Bharti Airtel is currently looking for opportunities across the world. The company is learnt to be in the race to pick up 51% stake in Telkom Kenya and has also been shortlisted by the Qatar government along with 10 other global majors for the second mobile phone licence in the West Asian country.

Bharti has also bagged the licence to become Sri Lanka’s fifth GSM operator and is slated to begin operations in the island nation by the year end. The company, which lost out in Kenya, Bhutan and Saudi Arabia, also offers comprehensive telecom services in Seychelles under the Airtel brand since 1998. Recently, Bharti (jointly with Vodafone) also launched 2G and 3G services in Jersey and Guernsey in Europe.