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Smart Mobile in Star-Cell merger talks, qb claims

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Smart Mobile in Star-Cell merger talks, qb claims

SMART Mobile is in talks to merge with rival provider Star-Cell, according to the head of rival company qb.

“We understand Smart is in discussions over a proposed merger [with Star-Cell],” said Alan Sinfield, qb’s chief executive officer, yesterday.

Mobile operator qb had also eyed Star-Cell, he said, but had proposed a 100-percent purchase rather than a merger.

“If we are unsuccessful, or even if we are successful, we will pursue other acquisitions or mergers,” he said.

Star-Cell had been widely viewed as being on the market in recent months. Its Sweden-based owner TeliaSonera AB announced it had “written down” its value by more than US$100 million late last month, claiming “no goodwill” in a market it said was characterised by fierce competition and high churn rates.

Star-Cell was the seventh largest of the Kingdom’s nine mobile operators, with 503,000 active subscribers at the end of September, TeliaSonera said in its third quarter results.

According to research by The Post, the companies behind Smart and Star-Cell – Cyprus-based Timeturns Holdings and TeliaSonera respectively – already cooperate in other markets.

Star-Cell first launched in Cambodia in October 2007, according to the industry body GSMA. It was 100 percent acquired by TeliaSonera in September 2008.

That deal also saw TeliaSonera acquire 80 percent of Spice Nepal. Timeturns is the founder and part owner of Spice Nepal, according to the firm.

It claims to have begun operating Spice Nepal in 2005 as the first privately owned mobile provider in the country, on its website.

Smart Mobile Chief Executive Officer Thomas Hundt declined to comment on the claim yesterday.

Officials from Star-Cell had told The Post to contact TeliaSonera representatives, who claimed to be “unable to comment”.

Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications Director General Mao Chakrya was unavailable and other ministry officials declined to discuss the alleged merger.

Earlier this year, Alan Sinfield targeted extending qb’s coverage to 100 percent of Cambodia’s population by the end of 2010.

“It’s going to be hard to achieve but certainly that’s our main goal,” he said, though he declined to disclose the cost of the expansion or the number of towers targeted.

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