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TRA boss plans mobile competition

The head of the telecom regulator in the UAE has welcomed Du's deal to sell the iPhone, as he sets about further increasing competition among the UAE's two telecom operators.

TRA boss plans mobile competition
The TRA wants to boost the level of competition between Etisalat and Du.

The head of the telecom regulator in the UAE has welcomed Du's deal to sell the iPhone, as he sets about further increasing competition among the UAE's two telecom operators.

Plans for a third mobile operator in the UAE will gather pace over the next few months with a study into the impact a new entrant will have on the sector, while mobile customers are expected to be able to port numbers across networks by early next year.

At the end of last week, the UAE's second operator Du announced that it had signed a deal to sell the latest version of the iPhone, the 3GS, breaking Etisalat's exclusive deal with Apple, the manufacturer of the device.

Director General of the Telecom Regulation Authority (TRA) Mohamed Al Ghanim welcomed the move. He says that the regulator does not favour exclusive handset deals among operators. "As far as the regulatory framework is concerned, we try as much as possible not to have exclusivity deals," Al Ghanim says.

"Hopefully when Du comes out with the device, we will see more competition in the handset business."

Al Ghanim adds that despite the economic crisis, the telecom sector is still making progress, with profit and growth continuing, but he said there was a need for caution before a third mobile operator is ratified.

"We have re-studied the entire model and we will be looking at it by the end of this year to see where we are in terms of the third mobile operator. At the moment, it is still a bit premature to talk about it," he says.

Before any new entrant is sanctioned, mobile number portability (MNP) will be introduced, although Al Ghanim says it is not necessarily a precursor to a third operator.

"This is another regulatory tool that we have at hand to increase the competition among operators to make sure that they keep and satisfy their customers.

"MNP is very dependent on the implementation from both operators' sides, and we hope that the MNP will be live in the UAE at the beginning of 2010."

The TRA boss explains that both operators still have work to complete "on the technical side, some work on their billing system, on their intelligent network system and the switching system, so there are a few things that [Etisalat and Du] have to adapt. Not major, but they have some things to do".

Al Ghanim says that both prepaid and postpaid customers will be able to transfer their numbers across networks, but he says it had not been decided if customers will face a charge to move their numbers, as can happen in some markets. "We can say that we want to make sure that the porting happens with the least barriers, because we don't want operators to put restrictions when a mobile customer wants to port their number from one operator to another," he adds.

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