Arrival of any form of competition in the UAE's tightly regulated telecoms sector has to be welcomed
On Sunday, the Abu Dhabi-based operator, Yahsat, launched its YahClick satellite broadband service in its home country.
In a press release, YahClick said the service would be of specific use to businesses in remote locations – such as agriculture or oil and gas installations – and would also provide reliable broadband back-up for local firms.
As impressive as this company is – Yahsat launched its second satellite into orbit last year – I’m still not convinced how much this service will help your average individual broadband user just yet.
Since du broke Etisalat’s monopoly on telecoms services in February 2007, there hasn’t been a huge amount of progress on the competition front in the UAE.
There are still only two mobile licence holders in the country, and no sign of any more in the pipeline. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait all have three mobile operators, and the latter two countries have much smaller populations than the UAE.
Last month, Saudi Arabia announced that it had awarded three licences to mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), one of which was picked up by Virgin Mobile. By running lean organisations, these MVNOs can often provide even cheaper call rates than the operators on whose infrastructure they rely. MVNOs are already active in Jordan and Oman.
So can we at least expect an MVNO licence to be awarded in the UAE? Not according to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, the local regulator, which said in December that it was “happy with the current structure of the market”.
As Etisalat and du reach parity in terms of subscribers in a maturing market, they are both making considerable profits. But not everyone is happy. Even the central bank weighed in last month, asking both players to cut their service charges.
The very least the two firms can do is implement mobile number portability – which allows users to switch operator without changing their phone number. This has been promised for years, but UAE consumers are still to see this pledge turned into reality.