Vietnam telecom firm Viettel eyes Philippine market

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HANOI— Vietnamese telecommunication company Viettel has set its sights on the Philippines as the next destination in its overseas expansion drive, the company said on Thursday, as the archipelago’s economy clears the way for the entry of a third operator.

Fixing the Philippines‘ notoriously patchy and expensive telecom services was a campaign promise of populist President Rodrigo Duterte, who had said late last year that a third player would join the market and end the duopoly of PLDT Inc and Globe Telecom Inc, which have a combined market capital of about $10.7 billion.

“Viettel is interested in the third license on telecommunications in this market,” the military-run Viettel Group, Vietnam’s largest mobile carrier by subscription numbers, told Reuters in an emailed statement.

“Viettel will thoroughly consider participating in case the conditions of the bidding documents are in line with the strategy of Viettel.”

The Philippines‘ Department of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) issued draft rules this month on the entry of a third player, which require foreigners to team up with local partners holding congressional franchises.

Foreign ownership of a telecom firm in the Philippines is capped at 40 percent, although Eliseo Rio, the acting ICT head, told Reuters in a recent interview that moves were underway to change that, so foreigners can raise their stakes later on.

The Philippines has one of the world’s largest rates of average daily social media usage, yet insufficient infrastructure means its 105 million people suffer frequent dropped calls, weak signals and intermittent data.

Viettel has already invested in 10 countries across Asia, Africa and America, and had 43 million subscribers overseas, as of end-2017.

Last month, a Viettel official said the company was also eyeing opportunities in Ethiopia after the government there announced its intention to liberalise key economic sectors including telecommunications.

In June, Viettel and its local partners launched a $1.5 billion 4G network in Myanmar, making them the fourth telecom operator in the country. (Additional reporting by Martin Petty in MANILLA Editing by James Pearson and Subhranshu Sahu)