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Wataniya Telecom now has over 900,000 mobile subscribers, accounting for a market share of around 40%, and continues in its efforts to overhaul its network to become one of the most technically advanced in the region.

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By  Tawanda Chihota Published  September 22, 2005

|~|Koponen200.1.jpg|~|Wataniya Telecom general manager and CEO, Harri Koponen believes that driving customer value is a key strategy.|~|In much the same way that a headmaster of a school at which his children are students is often more strict on them than on their peers, Wataniya’s four-member Nordic management team are harder on their Nordic infrastructure suppliers than they would likely be on suppliers that did not share the common ancestry as their own. Harri Koponen, Wataniya Telecom’s ebullient CEO and general manager is overseeing the massive undertaking to switch Wataniya Telecom’s entire core and radio access network from German vendor Siemens to a infrastructure being rolled out by Swedish and Finnish vendors Ericsson and Nokia respectively. Nokia is the sole contract supplier for Wataniya’s new core network, while Ericsson and Nokia share elements of the radio access contract. “We are transforming the network into one of the most sophisticated in the world,” Koponen says. “We have installed a completely new network and have utilised a completely new technique that allowed us to switch networks without any service outage, no downtime.” Wataniya has demanded — and received — meticulous service from its new vendor suppliers, stating that an aggressive rollout, and strong support were the requisites that to making the suppliers successful bidders for the business. “The old network was not performing and there were some disagreements between ourselves and Siemens about the future roadmap,” says Niklas Sonkin, chief strategy officer and director of B2B development at Wataniya. In June the operator announced that it had enabled EDGE across its entire network and went on to organise a programme to allow all subscribers on the network — postpaid and prepaid alike — to upgrade their SIM cards to EDGE-enabled ones at no additional cost. “650,000 new EDGE SIM cards are currently in circulation, 500,000 of which are being used by subscribers that have upgraded their original SIMs and a further 150,000 are being used by new EDGE subscribers,” says Sonkin. Wataniya Telecom now has over 900,000 mobile subscribers, accounting for a market share of around 40%, and continues in its efforts to overhaul its network to become one of the most technically advanced in the region. Koponen says the operator will deploy high-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA) technology during the course of next year, having deployed a UMTS network before the end of this year. ||**|||~|sonkin200.jpg|~|Sonkin says that Wataniya is currently developing and trialling IMS. |~|“We are looking to expand together with Wataniya,” says Ragner Back, chairman of Ericsson operations in Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa. “HSDPA is making a difference and there is strong momentum. We are delivering to Cingular (in the US) and it is an important technology to Ericsson and the industry.” Koponen describes his company’s move to HSDPA as leapfrogging current 3G technologies and moving ahead to 4G. “The gap in the time of delivery of 3G and 4G is so small, it makes sense to go straight to 4G,” says Koponen. The basis of Wataniya’s 4G vision was articulated at the end of May, when the operator announced its tie-up with Nokia for the implementation of advanced technologies that would enhance the operator’s network and take Wataniya ‘beyond 3G’. As part of the agreement, Nokia is supplying Wataniya with a wide variety of next-generation products including the HSDPA solution. “Very few services will have more than a 10% penetration,” says Kai Konola, strategy director at Nokia networks. “There are more than 300 operators around the world that have launched MMS and the expectation is that (the service) will reach critical mass during 2005, and perhaps that will ramp up this and other data services.” Koponen believes the offer of a combination of services and leadership in the development of such services is important. “There are leaders and there are followers and in this respect we are set to be a leader,” Koponen says. “HSDPA will remove all manner of capacity bottlenecks and will allow the delivery of broadband-type services that will be utilised by heavy data users,” he adds. Another area in which Wataniya is vying to become a leader is with respect to IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) technology, which the operator is currently developing and trialling. “IMS is set to be introduced ahead of the launch of 3G,” says Sonkin, and should this occur towards the tail end of this year or early next, it would be one of the earliest commercial launches of IMS anywhere in the world. Like most operators in the region, Wataniya is actively targeting corporate users despite only 10% of its installed subscriber base of over 900,000 being postpaid. The operator is developing VPN products and has partnered with Canadian card supplier Sierra Wireless for the offer of EDGE-enabled PCMCIA cards for mobile data access for laptops. Finnish mobile enterprise solutions provider Smartner Information Systems has been contracted by Wataniya to develop push email applications and Wataniya has recently recruited another Finn, Jukka Paasivaara, as sales manager for corporate sales. ||**|||~|Soenke200.jpg|~|Soenke Peters says Siemens has enough success stories to be confident of its products and services. |~|Interestingly, Smartner, which was acquired by US mobility solutions provider Seven in April, has also been chosen by MTC-Vodafone in Bahrain to deliver mobile office solutions to the enterprise and residential market in the Middle East. Smartner delivered its Duality Always-On Mail product, which is based on push technology that enables real-time access to e-mail, calendar and attachments for standard smart phones. MTC-Vodafone was the first operator in the Middle East region to deploy the push solution in December 2004 and was expected to deploy the solution to its operations in Kuwait and Bahrain, Jordan and Lebanon. “We are embarking on a three-pronged approach targeting corporate users,” says Wataniya’s Paasivaara. “There are opportunities to develop value added services for person-person communications, person-machine communications and multimedia solutions.” For Nokia, the gatekeepers for the introduction of new mobile enterprise services are obvious. “When it comes to offering enterprise mobility solutions, you need to convince two groups of people,” explains Pekka Isosomppi, communications manager for Nokia’s enterprise solutions. “The IT manager, because services are becoming more complex, as well as the decision maker.” Isosomppi sees the greatest appetite for solutions being generated by demand for the delivery of email on the move and access to calendar functions. Despite the high-end capabilities of the network and the sophisticated value added services that are under development, Wataniya has not lost sight of attending to the requirements of its predominantly prepaid subscriber base. Not only has the operator opened up international roaming to its prepaid Xpress subscribers, it has also introduced a service permitting them to transfer balances on their prepaid accounts through a service called W-Charger. The application is built on the Nokia Connect eRefill platform, which reduces the costs of prepaid processing compared to traditional voucher-based solutions. The operator has no immediate plans to extend its W-Charger service to contract users, where contract subscribers would be able to send airtime to prepaid subscribers. “Our ConnectSite solution, which was aimed at bringing down the total cost of ownership for mobile communications in developing markets has expanded from base station (radio network) savings to the eRefill and Tracker products,” explains Nokia’s Konola. “We have experienced good traction as we include more offerings and our success can be seen by the fact we entered into seven new growth markets last year.” Given Siemens’ stated intention to establish long-term partnerships with operators in the region, the swapping of its kit in Kuwait in favour for equipment from Nokia and Ericsson must be a continuing source of dissatisfaction for the German vendor. “From my point of view, looking at our position here in the region where we are a strong number two as Siemens Communications, there are lots of good reasons to believe we have a successful product, (that) we have the right partnerships in place, and that we can turn technology into business success for our customers,” says Soenke Peters, vice president and general manager Siemens Communications in the Middle East. “There might sometimes be reasons that are beyond what I have just mentioned (as to) why customers decide to change,” he adds. Siemens is currently partnering with Qtel for its 3G deployment in Qatar, and that operator also harbours HSDPA aspirations. ||**||

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