Upward mobility

The grand assembly at the recent Mobile World Congress 2008 (MWC) hosted in Barcelona set the agenda for the global telecoms industry. CommsMEA examines the market developments facing the Middle East telecoms players.

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By  Administrator Published  March 22, 2008

However, with the backing of the world's leading handset manufacturer Nokia, and number-two handset vendor Samsung increasingly shipping the technology outside of its core markets of the Far East, the DVB-H standard looks set to edge-out the other technologies in the Middle East.

Battle of the brands

However, as convergent technologies blur the lines of the telecoms and broadcasting industries, the potential for conflict is never far away in the mobile TV sphere.

We have a stated corporate objective to become a top-ten global mobile company by 2011. Our presence here puts us on the same stage as the other giants of the mobile telecoms industry.

Many telcos in developed markets now have to bow to the brand-equity of both media and internet search brands, as exemplified by pan-European telco T-Mobile announcing that it would use Yahoo's mobile search engine on its mobile portal at MWC. However, certain voices assert that Middle East telecom operators are well positioned to better the fortunes of their Western counterparts.

"Companies like Google are only just starting to work towards localising their mobile content in Western Europe," says Lorcan Burke, chief executive of AdaptiveMobile. "Operators in emerging markets realise this and appreciate that they are in a better position to localise content on their portals," he adds.

This situation is a legacy of Google's heritage in the fixed-internet business and one that offers emerging market operators an incentive to learn from the mistakes of their western counterparts and keep tighter control of the content available on their networks. More importantly, this will also enable them to maintain tighter control over any new revenue streams the content might help generate.

Burke also asserts that telcos in emerging markets, such as the Middle East and Africa, can avoid the pitfalls of conceding the majority of mobile advertising revenues to internet search engine companies by making their content relative to their subscribers.

He explains that multi-national telco groups, such as Vodafone, are employing this strategy as a point of differentiation when entering emerging markets. "Oftentimes large-scale telcos are encouraged by their investors to start localising content on their portals in order to dominate in developing markets," he explains.

Additionally, internet search engine companies are also hindered by the fact that telecoms regulators in emerging markets often strictly control the content that can be accessed on a telco's network. As a result operators are forced to police data traffic on their network and can be slow to offer subscribers access to content from outside of their network.

"If you look at markets like Saudi Arabia, operators are under tight scrutiny as to what content mobile subscribers can access and they have to keep that under control," explains Burke.

Elsewhere at the event, Middle East telecoms companies flexed their muscles to declare their presence on the world stage. In order to celebrate a year of exponential expansion, and its global rebranding, Kuwait's Zain rebranded an entire 2000 sq m, multi-storey restaurant called ‘La Font de Prades' in a historic Spanish town close to the MWC convention centre. Structural adaptations were made to the building, which accommodated Zain personnel and some 2,000 guests during the four day event.

Speaking at the event, Dr Saad Al-Barrak, CEO of Zain, said: "We have a stated corporate objective to become a top-ten global mobile company by 2011. Our presence here puts us on the same stage as the other giants of the mobile telecoms industry." Present at the spectacle was Joan Laporta, chairman of the city's beloved Barcelona Football Club. Zain delegates pointed to his presence as indicative of the group's growing stature in the global telecoms stage.

The operator group also used the event to announce the successful trial of a powerful advertising solution that will underpin its attempt to garner new revenue streams for Zain in Jordan (one of the most competitive markets in the Middle East telco space).

This solution, supplied by mobile platform provider Jinny Software, gives Zain Jordan the ability to take an early and strong position in an industry that is expected to earn US$18 billion by 2012.

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