Oman gets third virtual mobile operator

Friendi Group ties up with broadcaster MBC to launch ‘Halafoni’ brand for Arabic youth

Tags: Friendi GroupUnited Arab Emirates
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Oman gets third virtual mobile operator Friendi CEO Mikkel Vinter says operators and regulators in the region are open to more MVNOs. (Francisco Fernandez/ITP Images)
By  George Bevir Published  July 9, 2009

Friendi Group, the company behind the Middle East’s first virtual mobile network, has launched its second mobile brand in Oman, specifically for the country’s Arabic-speaking population.

The virtual mobile network operator (MVNO), known as Halafoni, is the result of a pan-regional deal with UAE-based broadcaster MBC. It is aimed at young “Arab speakers and nationals”, with a focus on downloadable content, some of which will be from Hala FM, MBC Group’s local radio station in Oman.

In April, Friendi Mobile, a division of Friendi Group, became the first virtual mobile operator to launch in the Middle East after it signed an agreement to use Oman Mobile’s network, with deals targeting the country’s migrant workforce.

“We are firm believers in the multi brand strategy for the industry in general,” Friendi Group CEO Mikkel Vinter told CommsMEA. “It’s the path we have seen in North America, Europe and parts of Asia. More and more operators are leaving the one brand fits all strategy and supplementing a strong main mother brand with smaller, more focused sub brands.”

As well as incumbent operator Oman Mobile, residents of Oman are also served by Qtel-backed network operator Nawras, and Renna, an MVNO which also uses Oman Mobile’s network.

According to figures from Oman’s telecom regulator, the country had 3.2 million mobile subscribers at the end of 2008, resulting in a penetration rate of 117%.

Despite the high rate of Sim card ownership Vinter says that Friendi Mobile has managed to sign up more customers than anticipated, with 50,000 subscribers added to the network during the first two months of business which he says equates to a 1.5% share of the market.

UAE headquartered Friendi has another MVNO licence in Jordan, and it plans to roll out more operations across the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia regions.

Vinter declined to say which country he would target next, but he said he was hopeful there would be “at least one additional launch this year, and hopefully even more”.

“[MVNOs] have now moved beyond being a concept, and we can clearly see in our business development activities rapidly growing interest from operators and regulators to proceed in this direction now that Oman has shown the way,” he said.

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