Mid East’s virtual operators plot next move

New deal slated for early 2010 as figures show boost to Oman Mobile’s market share

Tags: 3GFriendi GroupOman
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Mid East’s virtual operators plot next move Friendi CEO Mikkel Vinter says the virtual operator is “pushing hard” to launch in Jordan. (ITP Images)
By  George Bevir Published  September 13, 2009

Both of the virtual mobile operators that launched in Oman earlier this year are working towards launching in a second country in the region, after their combined efforts helped Oman Mobile put a stop to rival operator Nawras eating into its share of the mobile market.

Incumbent mobile operator Oman Mobile, which has been steadily losing market share to Nawras since the Qtel-back firm broke its monopoly, signed wholesale deals with Friendi Mobile and Renna last year in a bid to target niche segments of the market.

Arab Advisors Group senior research analyst Hussam Barhoush says that Oman Mobile's market share has naturally been declining, but after the launch of the MVNOs in the second quarter of this year, Oman Mobile’s network market share, including MVNOs, grew by 0.4 percent.

Friendi and Renna added 93,000 subscribers by end of the first half of the year, with Friendi adding 60,000 subscribers in the first two months of its launch, and Renna adding 33,000 in less than one month, Barhoush said, adding that “both MVNO's growth curves are close”.

The virtual operators are now looking to build on their Omani operations, and CommsMEA understands that Friendi is set to unveil a new regional investor as the group gears up for further expansion.

CEO Mikkel Vinter said that the group plans to expand across the Middle East, Asia and North Africa, and he pin-pointed one Middle East country in particular as a potential second country of operation.

“We have our second licence in Jordan and that’s one that we are pushing hard to put to use,” he told CommsMEA. “The fact that Oman has launched and the initial results were very positive and exceeding expectations means we are seeing far more interest from operators and partners.”

Vinter said it would be “premature to give any specifics”, but there were “all kinds of ongoing discussions” with recent 3G licence winner Orange Jordan as well as with other network operators in the country, together with “opportunities” in North Africa.

Rival MVNO Renna is also keen to expand across the region, and CEO Niklas Nielsen said that with the Oman operation established the group will now pursue requests it had received from other markets.

“There are some opportunities opening right now in the Gulf area that we are looking into. Some of the operators who have tested this business model as a potential idea for their strategies are now a little bit pushier in terms of moving ahead.

“One that we are talking to is a single operator, and we are also talking to two groups that have operations in other countries, as well as their own country.”

Nielsen said operators are now keen to discuss the specifics of wholesale rates and the impact on their own business case, but he added that most markets in the Middle East still require further legislation for MVNOs to launch.

“We think that if we are coming hand-in-hand with the operators to present our plans then we will get an endorsement. With a little bit of luck we will see another signed wholesale agreement in the first half of next year.”

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