Batelco Receives Bids for Umniah

Bahrain’s Batelco said it has received bids to buy Umniah, ending months of speculation surrounding the possible sale of Jordan’s third biggest telecom operator.

“After a detailed review of the asset by Batelco and its financial advisor, it was decided to launch a private sale process for Umniah. Non-binding offers from potential interested parties were received on Monday, 18 January. Over the coming period, together with our advisors, we will evaluate the offers received and update the market in due course,” Batelco said in a Bahraini bourse filing, without giving further details.

Umniah declined to comment on the possible sale. Citing people with knowledge of the matter, Bloomberg reported in October that a sale of Umniah could fetch about $500 to $600 million, and that Batelco had reached out to potential buyers including Emirates Telecommunications Group and Qatar’s Ooredoo QSC. Batelco bought a 96 percent stake in Umniah for $415 million in 2006, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Umniah made a net profit of JD5.25 million in the nine months to September 30. On its website, the company said it had more than 3 million customers and a market share of around 32 percent in 2014.

Batelco’s disclosure about a potential sale coincided with an announcement by Umniah’s newly appointed CEO Ziad Shatara that his company plans to launch 4G services in the first quarter of this year. Umniah’s main competitors—Zain and Orange—already offer LTE services.

In a recent report on Jordan’s telecom sector, Business Monitor International (BMI) said the increased availability of 4G was a positive step that would “empower organic growth.” Even so, BMI said the market remained saturated with a high degree of penetration and a dominance of the pre-paid, low-value sector.

Marwan Juma, the former ICT minister who founded Kinz and, said bidders for Umniah could possibly be big regional players like STC and Emirates Telecommunications Group looking to shore up their futures in a fast-developing market that’s becoming increasingly more competitive and less profitable for telcos. But Juma wondered if this still justified spending many millions of dollars on Umniah. “If one day you are looking to extend a regional fiber network and leverage Jordanians who are in and out of the Gulf—and their traffic—then Jordan becomes somewhat valuable. Otherwise, the way the technology is going, and with all the mounting costs and extremely competitive market, it certainly doesn’t look lucrative at all,” he said.