Middle East poised for rapid spread of high-speed 3G mobile services
Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar are all testing high-speed 3G mobile phones services after its successful introduction in Bahrain. “The Middle East region is witnessing an increase in the adoption of advanced telecom services as mobile operators start pushing for new technologies and proactively put 3G on their roadmaps,” Dr. Marwan Al ahmadi, Chief Strategy Officer at MTC Group, told the 3G World Mobile Forum held in Japan between the 23rd-25th of this month. 3G is a mobile protocol that supports the much higher data rates used for applications and also voice services.
MTC Group, the leading mobile operator in the Middle East and Africa, was the first mobile operator to launch 3G in the region. That came in Bahrain in 2003, when it won the 2nd mobile license. Since then the group has adopted a strategy of deploying 3G because it improves efficiency and enables the company to establish a clear technical lead over other mobile operators who have not yet implemented 3G.
The total population of Bahrain is just 700,000, yet Dr. Alahmadi said MTC Vodafone Bahrain had achieved approximately the same number of 3G subscribers as the UAE with a population of more than 3 million. Less than three years after the introduction of 3G, the company has 100% 3G coverage in Bahrain and an impressive 23% market share. “We are very proud of this achievement and are moving forward with more enhanced 3G advanced services, such as high speed internet access, on demand multimedia download, and push services,” said Dr. Alahmadi. Push services entail sending information to customers, as opposed to pull services where customers request the information themselves. MTC Vodafone has 3G voice & data service roaming with 12 operators in 8 countries, in addition to roaming agreements with 130 countries.
The implementation of 3G in the region has not been easy and MTC learned many lessons from its implementation in Bahrain, which was seen as a pilot for future MTC operations. “One of the major key lessons is that we needed to continue improving affordability and service customization through market segmentation,” said Dr. Alahmadi. “By dividing the market into various types of customers we are better able to customize our services more to meet their needs.”
The availability of suitable handsets also continues to be a major factor in the success of 3G success in the region. “In addition the utilization of 3G band for cost optimization of the 2G network should not be overlooked as both networks need to work seamlessly together,” added Dr. Al Ahmadi.
Today, various operators in the region are either in the process of testing 3G services or of providing the regulation needed before they can be launched. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar 3G testing is taking place while in Egypt a 3G/2G license is being prepared. Because of all this, there are more opportunities for the adoption of 3G in the Middle East. According to Dr. Alahmadi, “with its existing low penetration for advanced data/multimedia services, the Middle East is well positioned to be the next market for 3G after Asia and Europe in the next 3-5 years.”
He said that with more and more customers in the region ready to use advanced mobile data services, “we expect the adoption of 3G to evolve with reasonable speed. We also foresee regulators easing the constraints on licenses and pushing for more competition.”