By Ahmed Naser
Maktoob.com has reached an agreement with MediaRing.com to provide voice-mail services for the Arabic e-mail provider's 370,000 subscribers, Maktoob's managing Director Samih Toukan told Albawaba.com on Sunday.
The voicemail feature has been available for the past week and can be used when composing an e-mail via to Maktoob.com's web-mail service, but have not been actively promoted by the firm so far, according to Toukan.
"We have a current rate of 500 to 1,000 voice messages a day, so far," he said. "We expect that to increase 10-fold in the next few months we advertise it."
The new feature will later be integrated into a greeting cards service, Toukan added.
So far, Maktoob, according to the firm's executive, rates 1,700 new subscribers per day.
Around 20 percent of the current subscriber base originates from Saudi Arabia, with Egypt and Jordan trailing behind with an 18 and 15 percent, respectively, while subscribers from the UAE and the US figuring another 10 percent, according to Toukan.
The deal comes "at an exciting time when Internet awareness is growing rapidly in the Middle East," Toukan was quoted as saying in a press release and is expected to significantly enhance Maktoob.com's service offerings and subscribers, as the global IP telephony provider so far has 4.5 million subscribers in over 144 countries.
No figures were available on how many registered MediaRing subscribers there are in Arab countries, but Toukan pointed out that "Maktoob.com had become MediaRing's Arab arm."
"Maktoob's 370,000 subscribers have instantly become MediaRing subscribers," he added.
Later on, Toukan said that Maktoob.com will also offer voice cards, voice chat and discussion like those offered by Yahoo! and Excite. "We will have voice features in every section... You'll even be able to dedicate songs with voice," Toukan promised.
The deal also places Maktoob.com at the forefront of voice over IP, when the market is liberalized of monopolies held tight by traditional telcos.
From MediaRing's side, the firm's Chief Operative Officer, Pek Yew Chai was as saying in a joint press release that "MediaRing.com is committed to providing easy-to-use and effective voice communication technology that turns passive home pages into tools for interaction."
"We are pleased to be partnering with the leading Arab Internet community, and welcome them to our global community of users," he added.
In addition to providing these services, the alliance will extend to marketing and technology cooperation to introduce Maktoob.com and MediaRing.com services to the Arab world and to develop Arabic voice products and services.
MediaRing.com launched in November 1998, with MediaRing Talk, which became an instant success on the World Wide Web. Its registered user base grew from zero to 1.6 million in less than a year.
Earlier this year, the Cairo-based EFG Hermes investment back bought 20 percent of Maktoob.com.
According to a survey conducted by the Dubai-based Internet Al Alam Al Arabi in March, there are 1.9 million Arab users, which translates into a 0.7 percent net penetration rate in the entire Arab world that has 248 million inhabitants. Penetration in the United Arab Emirates stands at 15 percent, while it is 6.1 percent in Qatar, 6 percent in Bahrain, 5.7 percent in Lebanon and 5 percent in Kuwait -- (Albawaba.com)
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