Bankers for China Mobile Communications and Kuwaiti mobile-phone giant Mobile Telecommunications (MTC) were yesterday making their final evaluation of the cash bids for Millicom International Cellular out of London and Luxembourg, where the emerging-markets mobile group is based. With Dubai-based Investcom withdrawing its bid at the 11th hour on Tuesday, sources said the parent of China Mobile had been careful not to overpay for Millicom, given the Nasdaq-listed stock had surged 70 per cent since January on takeover speculation. Investcom's surprise withdrawal came after the Middle East and Africa-focused operator itself was bought out by Africa's biggest mobile operator, MTN, for US$5.5 billion. The size of the deal underscored the intense competition for telecommunications assets in emerging markets, where penetration in countries such as Ghana, Tanzania and Pakistan averages below 10 per cent. The MTN acquisition has boosted the confidence of Millicom shareholder Kinnevik, the Swedish telecommunications and media giant, which was heartened to see MTN pay a 27 per cent premium on Investcom's closing share price. 'The Investcom deal shows people are prepared to pay more,' a source said. 'It gives Kinnevik confidence that they can get a fully valued price for Millicom.' Merrill Lynch is advising China Mobile and UBS is advising MTC. A deal could be announced as early as this week, sources said. China Mobile has made several failed attempts to buy emerging-markets operators. Last year, it lost its bid for Pakistan Telecommunication to Emirates Telecommunications of the United Arab Emirates. It was also rumoured to have won a licence in Oman only to forfeit it later. Buying Millicom would mark China Mobile's first foray outside the mainland. Chairman Wang Jianzhou admitted last month that buying Hong Kong's Peoples Telephone last year was just the first step in its overseas ambitions. But whether Millicom is a good fit for China Mobile is still in doubt. An analyst described Millicom as a 'licence collector' - anyone buying into it would have to build out its 16 markets, which still have patchy network coverage. While Beijing has for years urged the four state-controlled telecommunications operators to 'step out', none has made it out of Hong Kong or Macau thus far. China Mobile, with 68.41 billion yuan in net cash, has been pushed to spend overseas, especially when its leading position at home is well secured. However, being under government control has put it under pressure. 'They have to be accountable to the government. If they overpay for the deal, it would tarnish the government's image,' BDA managing director Duncan Clark said. Analysts said as long as the deal was done at the parent company level, they expect little impact on the blue chip. For MTC, an ambitious mobile operator that has grown itself in three years from a pure Kuwaiti operator into a Middle East-Africa mobile giant with operations in 19 countries, its target is to increase its subscriber base to 30 million by 2011 from 12.45 million now through global acquisitions. Africa is still an unfamiliar territory for China Mobile, but for MTC, with operations in 14-sub-Saharan African countries, gaining Millicom would consolidate its position on the continent.