Recent developments in the telecoms sector of the United Arab Emirates are pointing towards a greater liberalisation of the market, in particular the introduction of mobile number portability and prepaid mobile packages that do not require the prior approval of the country's telecoms watchdog, the Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRA).
Mobile number portability has been launched after several years of delay and Gulf News reports that local network operators Du and Etisalat have been granted permission to start offering their customers prepaid mobile packages without the need for TRA approval. According to Paul Black, head of telecommunications and media at researcher International Data Corporation, these two initiatives are evidence of the watchdog's efforts to allow greater competition in the sector and liberalise the market further.
There is still no formal policy framework to make possible the entry of mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) in the UAE but nevertheless it surfaced recently that Virgin Mobile has plans to tap the market of the emirates. The UK company already operates as an MVNO in the Middle East, more specifically in Jordan and Oman, and not long ago won one of three MVNO licences in Saudi Arabia. The second licence for a mobile virtual network operator in Saudi Arabia was won by Dubai-based Axiom and the third licence went to Lebara as part of the Jawraa Consortium.
Judging from these moves, the time may have come for the Telecoms Regulation Authority to consider the benefits of opening up the domestic market to MVNOs, although two years ago the watchdog rejected media reports about its intentions to introduce a new player on the local market before 2015.
Julian Frankum |Managing Director MEA