[reuters] France Telecom aims to continue its expansion in the emerging markets of Africa and the Middle East via two or three acquisitions a year, but will not bid for Syria's mobile licence, an executive told Reuters.
Elie Girard, executive vice-president of strategy and development, said France Telecom's priority was countries with low mobile penetration and high growth potential and that recent political unrest was not derailing its ambitions.
"We want to build a real centre of activity in the Middle East but very carefully," he said in an interview on Thursday.
In Iraq he was bullish about the prospects for Korek Telecom, a mobile operator based in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region in which France Telecom recently bought a minority stake.
"There is huge growth potential in Iraq," said Girard, adding that Korek would grow some 30 percent a year.
Iraq has a mobile market penetration of about 80 percent, lower than other countries in the region, and average revenue per user of around $12-$15 a month, compared with $3-$5 in India and most of sub-Saharan Africa.
To capitalise on the opportunity, Korek is embarking on a mobile network build-out to cover the entire country by the end of the year, said Girard. "Korek's network is already very good in its home region of Kurdistan, but in the rest of the country we have a lot to do."
If all goes well, France Telecom has negotiated options to buy out its partner Agility and take majority control of Korek in a few years time.
F.Telecom still bullish on Mideast, Africa