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Mon 15 Dec 2014 01:13 PM

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Bahraini telco Viva eyes data growth as per-user call income falls

CEO of kingdom's No 3 mobile operator says falling call revenue is a challenge that all telcos are facing

Bahraini telco Viva eyes data growth as per-user call income falls

Viva Bahrain, the kingdom's No.3 mobile operator by subscribers, is betting on rising data revenue to offset falling per-user call income, its chief executive told Reuters.

Wholly owned by Saudi Telecom Co (STC), Viva launched operations in March 2010. It competes with former monopoly Bahrain Telecommunications Co (Batelco) and Zain Bahrain, a unit of Kuwait's Zain, as well as about 10 Internet service providers.

"Worldwide, operators are seeing a decline in ARPU (average revenue per user)," Ulaiyan al-Wetaid, chief executive of Viva Bahrain, told Reuters via email.

"Driven to some extent by falling voice revenues as well as competitors actions, it is a challenge all operators face. In Bahrain, the decline in ARPU is offset by the increase in revenue from data."

Across Bahrain's telecoms sector, voice calls accounted for 64 percent of the operators' revenues in 2013, data was 18 percent, text messaging 4 percent and subscription payments 14 percent, according to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA).

Operators' per-user revenue fell by about a tenth last year, the TRA says.

As a privately held company, Viva does not publish its accounts, but Wetaid said the company was profitable and its revenue rose 15 percent in the first half of 2014 compared to the year-earlier period.

Full-year revenue in 2013 rose 21 percent, he said, declining to provide further details.

"Data now accounts for a quarter of our revenues and our estimate is that this will only increase over the next few years," said Wetaid.

Unusually, 90 percent of Bahrain's broadband subscriptions use mobile, with the remainder using fixed networks and Viva has invested heavily in building a fourth-generation (4G) network.

As of the end of 2013, Bahrain had 2.21 million mobile subscriptions, according to the TRA.

Batelco had 868,000 mobile subscribers at that time, its annual report showed, and Zain Bahrain had 772,000, according to parent firm Zain's filings.

That would imply Viva Bahrain had 570,000 subscribers, making it the No.3 operator.

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