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Virgin Mobile launches in Qatar

Virgin Mobile Qatar launches services in conjunction with Qtel

Virgin Mobile Qatar launched services in Qatar today under a “brand licensing partnership” with Qtel.
Virgin Mobile Qatar launched services in Qatar today under a “brand licensing partnership” with Qtel.

Virgin Mobile, one of the world's leading mobile virtual network operators (MVNO), has launched services in Qatar using the network of incumbent operator Qtel.

Virgin Mobile Qatar, which is described as being a "brand licensing partnership" with Qtel, intends to focus on the youth segment and will lure subscribers with a simple tariff structure built around the concept that "the more you talk, the less you pay".

The service is offering prepaid mobile services with a simple all-day tariff and the longest airtime validity in Qatar, at 180 days. Local calls cost QR 0.55 ($0.15) per minute for the first five minutes each day, and QR 0.30 per minute after that. Mobile internet services cost QR1 per megabyte.

The deal, which was kept a closely guarded secret until today, appears to be an attempt by Qtel to address increasing competition from second operator Vodafone Qatar, which said it had attracted some 464,962 subscribers at the end of March, after launching services last year.

One senior member of Qtel's marketing department told CommsMEA that the development was "a surprise to most of the team".  

The launch was announced at an opening ceremony in Doha on Thursday morning, attended by Richard Branson, chairman and founder of Virgin Group, and Dr. Nasser Marafih, CEO of Qtel.

Marafih said he expected Virgin Mobile Qatar to "have an important impact" in Qatar and also hinted that the Virgin brand could be rolled out to other Qtel operations. "We see strong potential for development as a multi-country brand franchise partnership across our regional and international footprint," he said.

While a spokesperson for Qtel stressed that the service is not an MVNO, Milan Sallaba, an independent telecom consultant in Dubai, said that it would be interesting to see the reaction of other companies keen to launch MVNOs in the region.

"I am sure there will be much scrutiny of the venture going forward as well as perusal of the regulatory framework currently in place," he said.

Sallaba added that it remained unclear whether Virgin Mobile or Qtel would be providing customer services, sales and distribution for the new service, which could "blur the lines significantly" between an MVNO and a "marketing effort" or separate sub brand under the Qtel umbrella.

Virgin Mobile, which has some 15 million customers in seven countries, is the fastest-growing and most successful business in Virgin's history, according to Richard Branson.

Virgin Mobile Qatar will be the eighth Virgin Mobile operation in the world with the company already present in the UK, Australia, USA, Canada, France, South Africa, and India.