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E& still eyes Vodafone stake hike as brand blossoms

E& is still looking at increasing its stake in Vodafone, its chief executive disclosed in an interview, his comments coming as the telco shared new data that shows its brand is going from strength to strength.

Mary Lennighan

January 18, 2024

3 Min Read

Hatem Dowidar, group CEO at e&, told Bloomberg TV that his company is still open to making investments in much of the world, including boosting that Vodafone holding that kick-started its entry into the European market.

The United Arab Emirates-based operator bought into Vodafone in 2022 and has since built up a holding of 14.6%, but there has been talk of it upping that to 20%. Dowidar did not give specifics, but made it clear that an increase is still an option, while also insisting that e& would remain a minority holder.

The move into Europe – e& also agreed to buy PPF Group's telecoms operations in four markets in Eastern Europe last summer – gives e& exposure to more stable currencies as well as the opportunity to extend its footprint. The European climate may not have been the most favourable of late, but Dowidar told Bloomberg that he expects to see a return to growth in the continent in the coming years as interest rates fall, and at that point his investments there will start to pay off.

For now though, e&'s focus is on expansion into other markets, with Dowidar highlighting the Middle East, Africa and West Asia as potential targets. E& brokered a deal via its PTCL unit to acquire Telenor's operations in Pakistan at the back end of last year, which will give it the opportunity to build some scale in that market. It also made a move to increase its stake in Saudi Arabia's Mobily, in which it already the largest shareholder – but canned that at the end of December, having failed to reach agreement with the relevant parties. According to Dowidar, it has no plans to reopen talks there.

International expansion has doubtless helped e& – which took on its current name as recently as two years ago – to boost the visibility of its brand.

Evidence to that effect came in the form of new data published by Brand Finance this week, which named e& domestic unit, Etisalat by e&, to give it its full designation, as the strongest telecoms brand in the world, as well as being the strongest overall brand in the Middle East and Africa.

Brand Finance values e& at US$17 billion, which does not make it the most valuable telecoms brand in the world – that crown goes to Deutsche Telekom – but nonetheless represents growth of 15% on last year. The consultancy measures brand strength differently, awarding a score out of 100 based on the efficacy of a brand's performance; e& scored 88.4 this year.

"Key contributing factors include its ongoing Manchester City Football Club partnership, 5G network leadership, innovative customer experience initiatives, and participation in global events like the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi and COP28," Brand Finance explained.

"The renewed endorsement from Brand Finance is yet another sign of the successful transformation of the company into a global technology group," said Dowider, who features in his own right in Brand Finance's ranking of global CEOs, having been named as the number one telecoms leader in the firm's just-published Brand Guardianship Index 2024.

Geographic expansion may well still be on the cards, but it's pretty clear that e& is already making its presence felt on the world map.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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