Vietnamese firm eyes Bdesh mobile operator

DHAKA: Vietnamese telecom company Viettel wants to tie up with Bangladeshi state-owned mobile firm Teletalk and join other foreign entrants in the fast-growing South Asian market, a minister said today.

The Vietnamese government-owned telecom company would invest around $300 million in Bangladesh government-owned Teletalk, Telecommunications Minister Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju said. "We've got a proposal from Viettel for a partnership with Teletalk," Raju said, adding that the two sides still had to begin negotiations.

The minister would not elaborate on the proposal but the mass-circulation Bengali daily, Samakal, quoted government officials as saying Viettel wanted to buy a 60 per cent stake in Teletalk for $300 million.

A government committee was scrutinising the plan and was expected to give a "positive nod" to the sale of a majority stake to Viettel, Samakal reported. There was no immediate comment available from Viettel.

Teletalk is the smallest of Bangladesh's six mobile phone companies. It has 1.06 million mobile subscribers out of more than 50 million nationwide. Officials say a lack of investment has held back the company's growth and a stake sell-off is the best way to improve its competitivenness.

The minister said Teletalk will soon get a third generation or 3G licence and a 211-million-dollar loan at two per cent interest from China to expand its network.

A 3G licence will allow high-speed Internet, video downloads and other sophisticated media services on the cellular service. There has been a great deal of foreign interest in Bangladesh's telecoms sector.

Viettel's proposal comes more than a week after Dhaka's telecoms regulator said Indian mobile phone giant Bharti Airtel is seeking to buy a 70 per cent stake in Warid Telecom from its Abu Dhabi-based owners.

Bharti has said it is looking at potential purchases in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) region, including Bangladesh, but has declined comment on whether it wants to purchase Warid.

In 2004, Egyptian Orascom took over Sheba and Singapore's state-owned Singtel bought a 45 per cent stake in Bangladesh Telecom in 2005.

Last year Japan's NTT DoCoMo Inc paid $350 million for a 30 per cent stake in operator AKTEL, majority owned by Axiata of Malaysia.