Vodafone Qatar set for commercial launch in June

Company CEO also says company is eyeing other opportunities for expansion in Mideast.

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By  Soren Billing Published  May 25, 2009

Vodafone Qatar hopes to launch its commercial operation in June, ahead of the roll-out of its services across the country by September, the company's CEO Grahame Maher said on Monday.

Customers in Qatar wanting to sign up to the new Vodafone network could be able to log on to the company's website to register from as early as next month, he revealed on the sidelines of a telecommunications conference in Abu Dhabi.

To date, the company has switched on its network and has launched a trial service to a limited number of volunteer customers to establish the effectiveness of its network.

Maher said the launch process, which will include the opening of a number of retail stores across the country, would be a "continual" one and added that traffic to its website [from potential customers] has so far been much higher than expected.

The company chief also said that Vodafone was eyeing other opportunities for expansion in the Middle East, without elaborating.

The telecoms company, a venture between Vodafone Group Plc and Qatar Foundation, raised about $1 billion in its initial public offering to Qatari nationals and expects to list the shares on the Doha Securities Market by the end of July.

Maher said opposition to Voice Over IP (VoIP) software such as Skype, which is banned across the Gulf region, was futile in the long run and while he did not know whether his company would be told to block the service to Qatari nationals, he hoped that would not be the case.

Maher also said the company would learn from its mistakes in "screwing up" in Japan to make its operation in the Gulf state a success.

He told Arabian Business that while the company brand would be international, the operation would be "respectful of Qatari culture" and added that the time was right to enter the Middle East market.

On pricing, Maher said the policy of many operators to offer handset subsidies was "crazy" and only helped to keep the cost of calls high. He said rival Qtel had already changed its pricing structure "quite substantially and expected to see further changes in the future amid the new competition in Qatar.

Last month, Vodafone Qatar was given until September 1 to establish 98 percent coverage of the country, under new terms agreed with telecoms regulator ictQatar.

The Supreme Council for Information and Communication Technology (ictQatar) last month published revised licence terms for the second mobile operator following "unforseen delays" experienced by Vodafone.

Qtel and Vodafone have signed two agreements to share mobile towers and enable their customers to communicate with each other in Qatar.

The two deals for outdoor site sharing and interconnection were bilaterally negotiated and officially signed and Maher said network sharing "would be essential" if the industry was to survive.

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