Elie Girard, executive vice-president of strategy and development at France Telecom, said he was bullish about the prospects for Korek Telecom, the mobile operator based in Kurdistan, in which France Telecom recently bought a minority stake.
"There is huge growth potential in Iraq," said Girard, adding that Korek would grow some 30 percent a year.
Iraq has a mobile market penetration of about 80 percent, lower than other countries in the region, and average revenue per user (ARPU) of around $12-$15 a month, compared with $3-$5 in India and most of sub-Saharan Africa.
To capitalise on the opportunity, Korek is embarking on a mobile network build-out to cover the entire country by the end of the year, said Girard. "Korek's network is already very good in its home region of Kurdistan, but in the rest of the country we have a lot to do."
If all goes well, France Telecom has negotiated options to buy out its partner Agility and take majority control of Korek in a few years time.
The deal structure, and the relatively modest upfront price tag of $245 million, was France Telecom's way of reducing the risks of doing business in a warzone.