* Virgin Group, Qtel launch mobile phone service in Qatar
* Service to be eighth Virgin Mobile branded operation
By Regan E. Doherty
DOHA, May 13 Virgin Group is mulling more partnerships with Qatar Telecom (Qtel) QTEL.QA in other markets after launching a new mobile service with Qtel in Qatar, its founder Richard Branson said on Thursday.
"We've got 17 other countries that Qtel is in. We said, let's test it out here in Qatar first and then move on to other markets," Branson told Reuters in an interview, declining to give further details.
"The market here is so small that it wasn't worth building our own network. But this is the start of hopefully a much larger relationship with Qtel, possibly in other countries," he added.
Virgin Mobile Qatar, launched on Thursday in a brand licensing agreement with Qtel, will offer a prepaid mobile phone service within Qtel's network combined with Virgin Mobile's "brand experience," the companies said in a statement on Thursday.
"(Qatar) is an exciting country. The youth market is enormous here - 40 percent under the age of 29, and 60 percent under 35. If you pitch yourself at the youth, a lot of people will want to be associated with that," Branson told reporters.
Qtel, which operates in 17 countries, has expanded rapidly abroad to mitigate the loss of its monopoly after Britain's Vodafone (VOD.L) VFQS.QA entered the Qatari market. The company has a 65 percent stake in Indonesia's second-biggest telecom company, PT Indosat (ISAT.JK).
Qtel chief executive officer Nasser Marafih said at the product's launch that the company will continue to focus its expansion efforts on the MENA and Southeast Asia regions.
Vodafone Qatar VFQS.QA broke Qtel's monopoly with its bid for Qatar's second mobile telephone license for $2.12 billion in 2007.
Virgin Mobile Qatar will be the eighth Virgin Mobile branded operation, following launches in Britain, Australia, United States, Canada, France, South Africa and India.
Virgin Mobile is the group's fastest-growing and most successful business, Branson said. (Editing by Jason Benham and David Cowell)