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Satellite group Thuraya hunts for partners after mobile growth

By Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) - Dubai-based satellite communications company Thuraya is looking for partners to continue its expansion after its strategy of targeting the mobile phone sector helped to boost revenue by 15 percent last year, it said on Tuesday.

The company has two geostationary satellites, the first covering the Middle East, Africa and parts of Europe and a second serving Asia, but its lack of a full service for maritime customers, the biggest satellite users, meant it struggled to grow between 2007 and 2010.

Chief Executive Samer Halawi said he had transformed the group's fortunes by targeting the mobile phone sector and he is now looking for investors to fund new satellites.

"We have pioneered the concept of 'bring your own device' to the satellite world," he said in an interview in London. "People need devices that are simple to use and are appealing, and they want to use their own devices as an interface."

The company has developed a cradle for an Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy smartphone that can switch from mobile to satellite coverage, with all billing and contract plans handled by the mobile operator. Satellite calls on such plans typically cost about $1.50 a minute, Halawi said, which competes well against roaming charges.

The devices are used by people who need 100 percent coverage, even in emergencies such as power failures.

Thuraya has signed deals with Japanese mobile operator SoftBank Mobile and SMART Communications in the Philippines, Halawi said, adding that more will follow.

He said that Thuraya, whose shareholders include telecoms group Etisalat, is also working with partners to provide a wider maritime service to the shipping industry.

Revenue for the company, which competes with Inmarsat, Iridium Communications and Globalstar Inc, grew 15 percent to $122 million last year and its core earnings rose 29 percent to $36 million.

"We are looking for partners for the next generation of capability," Halawi said, adding that he has been talking to financial institutions and technology companies as well as looking at tapping debt markets.

(Editing by David Goodman)

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