Focusing In

Middle East-based wireless content provider Info2Cell.com was bought out by its 33% shareholder, Acotel, in February. CommsMEA speaks to founder Bashar Dahabra - now general manager at Acotel Middle East - about what opportunities lie ahead as operators gear up for the launch of GPRS networks and multimedia services.

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By  Richard Agnew Published  May 4, 2003

Introduction|~||~||~|COMMS MEA: Do you think middle eastern operators are accepting the argument for revenue sharing partnerships with content providers?
BASHAR DAHABRA: Yes, definitely. That’s a thing we’ve been experiencing ourselves. We have eight agreements with operators in place today and I can tell you that they’re all revenue share.

CMEA: What’s the typical split between operators and content providers at the moment?
BD: It really varies from one operator to another, depending on the environment and size of the operator, but it tends to come between 40% and 50%. Obviously, the higher our share the better because the overheads involved for the content provider are higher than those of the operator, especially if we are engaged in the service’s commercial launch.
It’s not just a matter of feeding some content to the operator and hoping for the best, there’s an active role that we play. We are engaged with the operator in defining the environment, the market segments that we’re targeting, launching a media plan, offering customer care and following up on actual service pick-up and so on. So it is not a passive role.

CMEA: Are you looking for a deal, like the i-Mode mobile internet system in Japan, where you get closer to 70%?
DB: The more revenue that the content providers are able to gain out of these relationships, the more we will be able to invest in the content itself. At the moment there is a value of 50% that the operators are not willing to go beyond. We’re hoping that they will see that in other regions, where content providers are given more than 50%, there is a better return, better penetration and better quality of service overall.
||**||GPRS and MMS|~||~||~|
CMEA: How important is the rollout of GPRS and MMS?
DB: Speaking personally, as someone who has been working on this for the last five years, I would say that MMS is going to be the next revolution. We did a ‘revolution skip’ on WAP. I think the reason why WAP never caught the attention of people is that it didn’t do anything, people had to dial into the network to access a few lines of black and white text.
With MMS, they can send a text message with colour slides, animations or actual pictures. They can also go beyond that with background music or actual voice-overs where someone reads the text out loud — so it’s a totally different experience.

CMEA: Do you expect more operators to launch MMS this year?
DB: I am sure that we will see an MMS service being launched this year by Etisalat, both operators in Egypt and possibly the operators in Qatar and Lebanon.

CMEA: When do you see 3G coming in and how important is it for your business?
DB: I think in this part of the world, our focus is on MMS and I don’t think many operators are rushing out there to upgrade their networks to 3G. MMS really will be the focus for 2003 and 2004. You might find some minor, smaller 3G trials ongoing, but these are nothing beyond tests to find out what the operator needs for rollout in terms of components. We need to educate consumers about multimedia and we need to make sure they know about the properties of broadband, GPRS and so on. These are really the priorities today and it’s only after we achieve them that we can talk about 3G.
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