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Smart pushes Philippine expansion

Mobile operator buys 30 percent stake in Irish GSM company Blue Ocean Wireless, extending its service to allow the use of mobile phones on sea vessels.
Written by Joel D. Pinaroc, Contributor

PHILIPPINES--Local mobile operator Smart Communications is forking out 726 million pesos (US$15.9 million) to acquire a 30-percent stake in Dublin-based GSM company Blue Ocean Wireless (BOW), in yet another move to expand its market footprint.

Smart's announcement Tuesday comes barely two weeks after it unveiled plans to pour in 230 million pesos (US$5 million) in a deal with global satellite company Inmarsat, to set up a satellite gateway facility outside Metro Manila. The partnership with Inmarsat is expected to complement Smart's existing prepaid satellite voice-only service, called SMARTLink.

This week's agreement with Irish company BOW, which specializes in GSM connectivity for the global maritime sector, will involve handsets capable of SMS and eventually Internet browsing, Smart said.

The Philippine operator will provide GSM network facilities, and voice call and SMS terminations for the BOW global merchant maritime service. It will also become a major reseller of BOW SIM cards and prepaid value cards, according to company officials.

Smart, the wireless arm of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT), added that it will deploy a software development team in line with the new GSM service offerings for BOW.

According to Smart, the deal broadens the carrier's service delivery to its existing subscriber base and presents an opportunity to capture "significant" new subscribers from the world's 1.2 million seafarers.

Napoleon L. Nazareno, president and CEO of Smart, said in the statement: "The global merchant maritime fleet is currently populated by 1.2 million seafarers, of whom 40 percent are Filipinos.

"Their communications needs are currently served by satellite-based, bridge-mounted or shared fixed phones that tend to lack privacy," Nazareno said. "Moreover, these types of phones allow only a limited number of incoming calls and do not provide for SMS or texting."

With the BOW service, he added, seafarers will be able to bring their mobile phones onboard their vessels and "use them just as if they were at home or roaming in other countries".

"We are delighted to announce this investment by Smart and a partnership with them to bring our unique product offering to market. Smart is a natural choice for us given that a significant portion of the world's seafarers are Filipinos," Nazareno said.

The company also noted that it has an option to acquire a further 19 percent in BOW, exercisable within the next three years.

BOW Chairman Dómhnal Slattery: "We originally identified the Philippines as a key target market for Blue Ocean Wireless. Our partnership with Smart, therefore, is a natural fit for this business."

Joel D. Pinaroc is a freelance IT writer based in the Philippines.

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