Leading the pack

In terms of mobile, Jordan has one of the most advanced markets in the world. But internet penetration remains low - an issue that features high on the regulator's agenda for this year.

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By  Administrator Published  May 13, 2008

In terms of mobile, Jordan has one of the most advanced markets in the world. But internet penetration remains low - an issue that features high on the regulator's agenda for this year.

For the third year running in 2007, Jordan topped Arab Advisors' Cellular Competitive Intensity Index. With a score of 78.1%, it easily finished ahead of other Middle Eastern markets. As well as having four fully licensed operators, Jordan has the third highest number of prepaid plans, according to the consultancy group. But there is still much work that remains to be done.

"I agree that the Jordanian mobile market is reasonably competitive, but I would not say that it's fully competitive," says Dr Ahmed Hiasat, CEO of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC). "That can be viewed in terms of the competition between the current operators, the prices and the range of services available."

I'm predicting 2008 to be a year of quality, in terms of having competition in providing wireless broadband services and additional international access/gateways. - Dr Ahmed Hiasat

It is a testament to the market that instead of just comparing itself to its regional counterparts, Jordanian telcos are keen to compare themselves against other developed markets around the world.

"We try our best to measure ourselves as not only in the region, but beyond," says Marwan Juma, CEO of XPress, the only iDEN operator in the country. When Batelco's Umniah acquired a mobile licence, there was talk that the market was already saturated.

But with over 1.2 million subscribers, the operator has proven naysayers wrong. And additional players may soon find their way into the market. According to Juma, the talk about a crowded market place is because incumbents are looking to protect their interests.

"The players say there's no room for growth; the issue is that they want to retain their margins," he says.

This year the TRC will issue 3G licences, and may open the floor to mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). The prospect of this is obviously worrisome to the established players. There is a concern that networks are reaching capacity.

"The existing operators do not have much capacity to spare, as the low competitive prices encourage higher than average ‘minutes of use' utilisation by the subscribers," says Joseph Hanania, CEO of Umniah.

"Hence, with a relatively high penetration rate, extremely competitive mobile services prices and existing operators running their networks close to full capacity, I fail to understand the business case, or the regulator's justification for an MVNO," Hanania adds.

Internet woes

The country is lagging behind Western markets in fixed-line and internet usage. Penetration rates are low, at around 20% at the end of 2007.

The TRC is now working towards an ICT strategy which will see penetration rise to 50% by 2011.

The high cost of PCs/laptops

Of the three problems associated with Jordan's low internet penetration, the cost of the PC is something that operators can do little about.

Current costs are pricing many Jordanians out of the market, and preventing them from accessing the internet. While proposals such as Intel's US$100 laptop programme do help, the Ministry of ICT has its own solution: give each university student a laptop, and allow them to pay for the cost over their years of study, by monthly instalments.

"Our target is to get a 50% internet penetration by 2011," says Ahmed Hiasat, CEO, TRC. "This is a very challenging objective. Everyone - the stakeholders, Ministry of ICT, the TRC, other ICT societies - is working hand-in-hand to achieve this target."

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