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Menatel to reduce payphone tariffs

Menatel, the private payphone operator in Egypt, is planning to introduce per-second billing shortly in a bid to take on the country’s two mobile operators, Vodafone Egypt and Mobinil.

Menatel, the Egyptian payphone operator, is planning to introduce per-second billing shortly in a bid to take on the country’s two mobile operators, Vodafone Egypt and Mobinil.

The provider, which boasts the highest share in the payphone market after five years in operation, has shelved plans to expand the number of its units this year, blaming the country’s economic climate. But it is hoping to undercut the GSM networks by introducing per second billing and a common tariff structure.

The move would see the operator reduce its current per-30-second tariff and help it take further advantage of the custom where customers cut costs by returning missed GSM calls via payphones.

"We are in competition with the mobile operators in 'outdoor communications' [but] our tariff is about half that of the prepaid GSM lines," says Mohammed Safaa, marketing and commercial director of Menatel.

"There is a big chunk of our users which use mobiles as a beeper — they get a missed call on the mobile and call back on our payphones. We are studying now whether to charge the customers per second and to [introduce] a common tariff for local and national calls," he adds.

Menatel was licensed to operate 20,000 payphones in Egypt in 1998, and has since expanded its fleet to 30,000. But owing to the country’s recent economic downturn, it has held back from further expansion.

"We were planning to expand to 35,000 [payphones] but after the devaluation of the Egyptian pound, [it seemed] better to wait a bit and see how the economy goes," says Safaa.

"Our revenues are decreasing but a large part of this is due to the economic situation. The chunk [of people’s disposable incomes reserved] for telecoms has decreased, but it has also for landlines, the GSM operators and the internet," he adds.

Despite its decision, the provider is also expected to gradually introduce value added services throughout its network of payphones.

These are expected to include payment by credit card, voice mail, and one touch dialling, as well as the launch of GSM-enabled terminals.

The provider also launched its own ISP in January and is planning to move some of its terminals into rural areas.

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