China Mobile Seeking Stakes in Other Operators

The global financial crisis has brought about one unexpected benefit for China Mobile, the chance to buy stakes on the cheap in foreign mobile network operators.

"Telecom assets in emerging markets have become very inexpensive," said Wang Jianzhou, China Mobile's chairman and CEO, at the GSMA Mobile Asia Congress in Macau, China.

The drop in price has prompted China Mobile to move away from a long standing investment policy of only buying stakes when they can gain management control of a foreign company. Now, the company is looking for opportunities to buy minority stakes at mobile operators in emerging markets.

"There is no need for operators to sell at such low prices," he said. But if China Mobile finds a company that needs cash quickly, it will seek an investment.

The company's first choice is Asia, but will also look at other emerging markets such as Eastern Europe, he said.

Other telecom companies have been investing in emerging markets recently. Japan's NTT DoCoMo, for example, last week said it will pay approximately 130.7 billion Indian rupees (US$2.7 billion) for a 26 percent stake in India's Tata Teleservices.

China Mobile made its first overseas investment last year, agreeing to buy 88.9 percent of Paktel Ltd. of Pakistan for US$284 million. The Pakistani operator has been officially renamed China Mobile Pakistan, but it operates under the brand, Zong.

China Mobile is the world's largest mobile phone network operator, with 436 million subscribers as of the end of September.

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