Oman Mobile prepares for new era

Omantel’s recently created wireless division, Oman Mobile, is preparing for competition in the Sultanate by upgrading its 2G network to GPRS.

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By  Richard Agnew Published  July 28, 2004

|~|oman1.gif|~|Dr. Amer Awadh Al Rawas, managing director of Oman Mobile|~|Omantel’s recently created wireless division, Oman Mobile, is preparing for competition in the Sultanate by upgrading its 2G network to GPRS. The operator is currently testing the technology with its suppliers, Ericsson and Siemens. It plans to commercially launch GPRS-based services such as multimedia messaging and higher-speed internet access later this month. “The GPRS and MMS pilot is now working,” says Dr. Amer Awadh Al Rawas, managing director of Oman Mobile. “We have 2,000 key customers, employees and other people giving us feedback on the types of content that would encourage subscriptions and we’ll be launching it soon,” he adds. The move forms part of the operator’s preparations for the entrance of the Qtel-backed Nawras Telecoms Consortium into the Sultanate later this year, as well as the partial privatisation of its parent company, Omantel — now planned for 2005. Oman Mobile was created in February this year by a royal decree, bringing a long running plan into reality. The move saw incumbent operator, Omantel, split in two, and tasked with handling the country’s fixed and internet services. According to Al Rawas, 190 employees have so far been taken on by Oman Mobile. “We plan to [employ] up to 600 staff [in parallel] with growth in subscribers,” he adds. While Nawras plans to launch its network with full EDGE capability, Oman Mobile says that it will use the launch of GPRS to test demand for the speed of access to services a 2.75G implementation would provide. Instead, it is focusing on building up its user base as rapidly as possible before the new entrant comes in, and on customer service improvements that would help prevent churn. The operator is planning to launch a multimedia contact centre alongside the GPRS upgrade, for example. Particular focus is also being placed on raising its base of contracted users through the removal of subscriber deposits. According to Al Rawas, its pre-paid user base increased from 359,359 last year to 409,000 in May, while its post-paid subscribers also rose from 220,745 to 232,663. But Oman’s population of 2.8 million suggests there is plenty more room for growth. “Previously, the deposits were levied because of a fear of bad debts, but now with this waiver on deposits, we are bound to grow [subscribers] tremendously,” Al Rawas predicts. Other areas where the mobile operator is investing include the improvement of coverage — long seen as a problem in Oman due to its mountainous terrain and widely spread population. Part of the project comes under the five-year, US$730 million investment plan started by Omantel, which is now in its fourth year. But Oman Mobile also plans to use the country’s universal service fund, created by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) alongside liberalisation, to support roll-out in less lucrative regions. “We believe that more coverage is needed,” says Al Rawas. “We plan to [bring] all the roads and a number of commercial [developments] that are growing [within reach]. But we need to work with the TRA to cover non-commercially viable areas,” he adds. On a wider scope, the mobile operator is also working to establish improved international ties. Various roaming agreements have been put in place recently, with countries including Russia, Iran, Bulgaria, New Zealand and Armenia. Oman Mobile has also recently begun cooperating with UAE telco, Etisalat, on pre-paid roaming and mobile application development. “We’re cooperating [on application development],” says Al Rawas. “So far, it’s been limited to training, not cross-posting of services. But that would be a good idea for us,” he adds. The operator remains tight-lipped, however, on whether talk of a takeover approach by a larger player will become reality. “There are rumours,” says Al Rawas. “But we have not been formally approached by anybody,” he adds.||**||

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