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Saudi 3G round the corner

Saudi Arabia's second mobile licence holder Mobily has said it will commercially launch its 3rd generation services this quarter, becoming the first in the country to do so.

Saudi Arabia’s second mobile licence holder Mobily will launch 3G services this quarter, according to Hatem Mohd Bamatraf, the operator’s senior manager of mobile network development. “We are looking to be the first to deploy 3G and 3.5G in Saudi Arabia,” he claims, indicating that the Etisalat-run operator will beat incumbent mobile provider Al Jawal in launching third generation services.

So far in the region, only the UAE’s Etisalat, MTC-Vodafone Bahrain and Wataniya in Kuwait have launched commercial 3G services, with mixed response. Research from the UAE in February 2006 showed that only 17% of respondents accurately knew about Etisalat’s 3G Mubashir service. In Bahrain, however, MTC claims that 10% of its revenues now come from 3G services.

Taha Rangwala, principal analyst at US-based consultancy company Pyramid Research believes that most regional 3G services will be launched in the next 20 months. “The majority of 3G networks in MEGNA will become live between the second half of 2006 and the end of 2007,” he claims.

Mobily now has over 3.5 million subscribers, says Bamatraf, up from just over 500,000 at the end of June 2005. The operator began commercial operations on May 25, 2005. Bamatraf says the surge in numbers has earned it the title of fastest growing operator in the region from the GSM Association.

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