By Helen Nyambura-Mwaura
MTN Group, Africa's largest mobile phone company, is interested in a Myanmar operating licence, which it expects will cost the winning bidder $200 to $500 million in licence fees.
The Johannesburg-based telecom giant with operations in 21 nations in Africa and the Middle East posted a disappointing 2 percent rise in full-year profit on Wednesday as foreign currency losses eroded earnings from key markets like Iran.
MTN said some 90 companies had also expressed interest in Myanmar, but only two licences would be awarded in June.
The Southeast Asian country has a population of about 60 million and a mobile penetration of less than 5 percent, making it an excellent opportunity, chief executive Sifiso Dabengwa told journalists after an earnings presentation.
"This is really a one-off. This is a greenfield that every operator is interested in," he said.
"Any other opportunity in Asia or any other country would be looked upon on its merits," he added.
MTN has also received a licence to provide Value Added Services - essentially all services other than standard voice calls - in Ethiopia, another populous country without much of a telecoms industry, Dabengwa said.
MTN would have to use infrastructure belonging to Ethiopia Telecom, the only mobile operator in the east African country.
The $36.6 billion company said it was not interested in bidding for Vivendi's 53 percent stake in Maroc Telecom, valued at nearly $6 billion.
"At the end of the day, valuation is the final determinant," Dabengwa told Reuters.
The company has $337 million in outstanding dividends in Syria, where the law MTN was registered under does not allow the repatriation of profits. MTN is also in talks with Iran's central bank to unlock another 1.191 billion rand ($131.5 million) tied up there, Dabengwa said.
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