Vodafone and Soros in battle for Asia licence

VODAFONE has teamed up with the Chinese state mobile operator in a bid to move into Myanmar, seen as one of the world’s most potentially lucrative telecoms markets.

The FTSE 100 company said yesterday that it and China Mobile were one of more than 20 candidates for one of the two licences set to be granted by Myanmar’s government.

Other bidders include a consortium headed by Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien and backed by George Soros, the investor known for making hundreds of millions of pounds in September 1992’s “Black Wednesday”.

Although Myanmar has a rapidly growing economy and a young population of around 60m, less than 10 per cent of the country owns a mobile phone, with the country’s creaking mobile infrastructure operated by the state provider.

Telecoms firms have targeted it as one of the biggest global opportunities for growth.

Vodafone and state-owned China Mobile, two of the world’s biggest mobile network firms, have had a strategic agreement in which they share technology and expertise since 2000. However, a 15-year licence in Myanmar would represent a new level of co-operation between the two.

At least 22 parties are bidding for one of the licences, which will be granted on the basis of both the amount they plan to invest and the level of service they propose to offer.

Digicel, which is teaming up with Soros as well as Myanmarese tycoon Serge Pun, is a mainly Caribbean-based mobile network firm.

“The liberalisation of the telecommunications market in Myanmar will serve as an important economic stimulus for the country,” Soros said.

“I am confident that our consortium has the expertise and experience to deliver world class service.”