Asian mobile operator Axiata has reportedly expressed interest in taking a stake in Vietnam’s state-owned MobiFone, which is scheduled to be privatised soon.

Vietnam’s deputy minister of information and communications met with Axiata’s head of corporate development in Hanoi recently to discuss the Malaysian-headquartered firm’s long-term plans for Vietnam, TuoiTre News said.

Axiata is the largest regional mobile operator in Asia and has controlling interests in mobile operators in Malaysia (Celcom), Indonesia (XL), Sri Lanka (Dialog), Bangladesh (Robi) and Cambodia (Smart), with significant stakes in India (Idea) and Singapore (M1). It had revenue of MYR4.65 billion ($1.3 billion) in Q3 and a net profit of MYR607 million (down 21 per cent from a year earlier).

MobiFone, Vietnam’s second largest operator with a 32 per cent market share, separated from VNPT, another state-owned operator, in June, and was required to submit an IPO plan by the end of last year. Ho Chi Minh City Securities has valued it at about $3.4 billion.

Military-run Viettel is the largest operator with a 45 per cent share of the country’s 128 million mobile connections.

A foreign investor can take up to a 49 per cent stake in MobiFone once it goes public, while VNPT can hold up to a 20 per cent interest. The Information and Communications Ministry is still carrying out consultations on the privatisation plan and is expected to give the government its final proposal this year.

In early October Norway’s Telenor and Comvik International Vietnam, which previously partnered with MobiFone, informed the ministry of their interests in taking a controlling stake in MobiFone.

A plan for an IPO in 2006 was ditched but not before it had attracted widespread interest from the likes of SingTel, Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom (now Orange) and Vodafone Group.