Norway’s Telenor has stepped forward and expressed interest in teaming up with San Miguel Corp (SMC) to set up a wireless joint venture in the Philippines, after Telstra pulled out of talks in March.

SMC president Ramon Ang told the Inquirer that Telenor contacted him and he is now considering opening discussions, but noted that it could also create a third mobile operator without a foreign partner.

Telenor, with operations in six countries in Asia – Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan and Thailand – is keen to expand in the region, which accounts for half of its global revenue.

Australia’s largest operator was unable to agree on an equity investment with SMC, and in March the two companies ended negotiations that started last summer. Telstra confirmed in August it was in talks for several months with SMC about investing up to $1 billion in a mobile venture.

Before Telstra emerged as a possible partner, Ang said Telenor had shown interest, as did a number of international telecoms players, the Inquirer reported.

SMC, the country’s largest corporation by revenue, has taken steps to consolidate its growing telecoms holdings in the Philippines. It owns 90MHz out of 100MHz in the highly efficient 700MHz band, with the company’s Wi-Tribe holding 80MHz and High Frequency Telecommunications allocated 10MHz.

The Philippines’ mobile market is controlled by two players – Smart (a PLDT subsidiary) and Globe Telecom – which together have a 99 per cent share. Smart is the market leader with a 53 per cent share, while Globe, 46 per cent owned by Singtel, has a 46 per cent share.

In early November PLDT and Globe called on the regulator to auction off part of the valuable 700MHz spectrum held by SMC’s units. Some analysts reckon that Telstra’s fear of prolonged litigation over the spectrum with the two powerful operators thwarted its interest in a venture.