Dubai-based Virgin Mobile Middle East and Africa (VMMEA), part-owned by British entrepreneur Richard Branson's Virgin Group, has launched telecoms services in Saudi Arabia.
Reuters reports that this marks the biggest shake-up in the kingdom's telecoms sector in six years, with the telecoms company profiting from the national regulator's decision to order the country's three mobile operators to each host a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) in an attempt to encourage competition.
VMMEA is launching two brands, Virgin Mobile, which will target the youth market, and Friendi Mobile, aimed at Saudi's expatriate workers.
Saudi Arabia is the fifth country in which VMMEA has opened, after Oman, Jordan, South Africa and Malaysia, as it looks to cement its position as regional MVNO leader and one of the fastest-growing regional telecom groups.
The launch coincides with Islam's annual haj pilgrimage, with an estimated 1.4 million Muslim pilgrims estimated to arrive in the kingdom this year.
VMMEA will see this as particularly timely, given that tourists often end up purchasing local SIM cards to call locally and to speak to family at home.
The introduction of MVNOs has been described as the biggest change to Saudi Arabia's telecoms sector since Zain Saudi became its third mobile operator in 2008. The kingdom is only the second Gulf country after Oman to allow MVNOs, although they are prevalent in Europe, North America and Asia.
Mikkel Vinter, CEO & founder of VMMEA, called the move a "major milestone" and thanked the CITC – the national telecoms regulator – for awarding the company the MVNO licence.