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Thu 9 Aug 2007 12:00 AM

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High stakes

Jordan is one of the most competitive telecoms markets in the region and as such there is a great deal of creative energy to be found there. As penetration levels continue to rise, the kingdom's principle network providers continue to look to new ways to reinvent their businesses.

A few months ago King Abdullah II of Jordan ordered representatives of the kingdom's information and communications technology (ICT) sector to prepare a strategy to ‘revive' the industry. He ordered the Information Technology Association of Jordan, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology and the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) to prepare a strategy to help maintain the momentum that has been gained in the sector over a number of years. The utterances by the King bring into sharp focus the significance placed on the ICT sector, in Jordan and incumbent communications providers are hard at work living up to this expectation. On the part of the national regulator, it continues to seek new ways to support innovation in the sector.

MVNO manoeuvres

In June, the TRC issued a draft regulatory decision paper on the provision of mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) services in Jordan. Deadline for the submission of comments expired July 8.

Jordan thus becomes the first country in the Middle East to see its national regulator take a step towards preparing for the introduction of MVNOs in its telecoms market. The TRC first published a consultation document seeking comments on the broad principles that should govern the implementation of MVNOs in Jordan in January 2007, and the latest document describes the regulatory framework that is intended to formally govern the provision of MVNO services in the kingdom.

Initial provisions established by the regulator include:

At this point we see VoIP as being an aggregation of the internet and any other application, which can be sound, music, data, or video. Voice is simply another application.

Mobile network operators (MNO) and MVNOs shall be free to negotiate the model that best fulfil their interests and business strategies. Consequently, more than one type of MVNO can be implemented in Jordan depending on how far an MVNO wishes to rely on the facilities of the host MNO, the adopted segmentation of the market and the proposed product sets.

The MVNO is a provider of Public Telecommunication Service. Thus, any party intending to provide MVNO services is required to apply for a licence in accordance with the current licensing and regulatory regime.

The type of licence required for the provision of MVNO services shall be The Individual License. This is due to using of Scarce Resources.

Licensees who provide MVNO services shall be eligible to interconnect and negotiate their interconnection arrangements with other licensees in accordance with their license agreements and any related regulations.

If the agreed MVNO operational arrangements between the host MNO and the MVNO implies wholly or in part using one or more of the identified interconnection services, then the host MNO shall provide such interconnection services to the MVNO in accordance with its obligations under the license agreement and interconnection instructions.
Any agreement between the host MNO and any MVNO shall be filed for approval by the TRC. Such agreement shall not come into effect until it has been approved by the TRC. The TRC shall be deemed to have approved any such agreement 30 days after it is filed unless it gives written notice of disapproval to the both the host MNO and the MVNO prior to the expiry of that 30-day period.

The TRC shall allocate blocks of numbers directly allocated to MVNOs in accordance with the National Numbering Plan (NNP) and the regulations for allocation and Reservation of Number Capacity. Sub-allocation from number ranges of the host MNO shall not be allowed.

The TRC shall allocate Mobile Network Codes (MNCs) to MVNOs in accordance with the National Numbering Plan (NNP) provided that the MVNO has the capacity to authenticate a roamed subscriber. For greater certainty, and in order to be eligible for an NMC allocation, the MVNO must have a Home Location Register (HLR), switching capacity and an authentication centre.

Jordan Telecom Group

Integrated service provider Jordan Telecom Group offers a fine example of the significant competitive pressures found in the kingdom's telecoms sector, with executives such as Tamouh Khauli, head of Jordan Telecom's e-dimension business, admitting to the pain the company initially suffered as a result of the fall in international traffic over its network as a growing percentage of voice calls were diverted over the web.

Khauli described the incumbent operator's progression from accepting the presence of VoIP technology and the public use of it, to actively incorporating it into its own network evolution, and accepting the trend as opposed to trying to resist it.

Jordan Telecom Group now prides itself as being one of the region's first truly integrated communications providers and has selected IP to play a central role in the development of this strategy.

Through Orange we are upgrading the status and reputation of the Jordan Telecom Group. We shall bring to Jordan the best telecoms offers on the international market.

In 2005 the telco released its Livebox product, the first VoIP ADSL box in the region targeted primarily at residential subscribers. The launch of the product was in direct competition to web-based VoIP services such as Skype, and Jordan Telecom Group's then chief strategy officer, Luc Savage, was unequivocal in his belief of the need of local players to innovate in order to survive the growth in competition.

"At this point we see VoIP as being an aggregation of the internet and any other application, which can be sound, music, data, or video. Voice is simply another application," Savage commented at the time, adding that while it was aware of Skype, Jordan Telecom could still bring something to the market using the benefits of VoIP.

That strategic view has continued to progress, so much so that earlier this year the company announced the acquisition of a majority stake in Bahraini alternative provider Lightspeed Communications.
Algeria, Jordan and Bahrain's regulatory environments remain the most developed with respect to the operation of third-party VoIP while Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Qatar are moving strongly in that direction.

Last month Jordan Telecom Group also celebrated the re-branding of Wanadoo, the Group's internet arm, to Orange, the commercial brand of France Telecom Group, Jordan Telecom Group's parent company.

"Orange is ushering a new era of telecoms operation in this region. Through Orange we are upgrading the status and reputation of the Jordan Telecom Group. And with Orange, we are going to reach levels we always aspired to reach. With it, we shall bring to Jordan the best telecoms offers on the international market," commented Mickael Ghossien, Jordan Telecom's CEO on the occasion.

Wanadoo internet services became Orange earlier in July, joining a network of over 100 million customers in 220 markets around the world.


Jordan's mobile market leader Fastlink counted a total of 1.941 million active customers as of end-June, representing a 4% decrease in active customers compared to 1H06. The operator's customers accounted for 6% of parent MTC Group's total customer base in the Middle East and Africa region.

Fastlink's 1H07 revenues reached US$231.6 million, a decrease of 2.6% compared to the period a year earlier. Additionally, EBITDA decreased by 6.2% year-on-year and reached US$115.4 million. Fastlink reported ARPU of US$19 in 2006, and the operator's slowdown in customer growth was mainly attributed to the market entering the maturity phase.

By November 2006, Umniah CEO Michael Dagher was able to report the operator had exceeded 700,000 subscribers.

Additionally, Fastlink has strategically shifted its focus from customer acquisition to retention and value extraction from the company's existing base, which will translate into further revenue increases in the medium term.


Last August Batelco acquired Jordan's newest GSM entrant Umniah for US$415 million, in a deal some analysts dubbed as being overpriced. Batelco CEO Peter Kaliaropoulos was always confident that his company had gained the best value possible for its money in the transaction. He pointed to the scarcity of assets as one of the main factors driving up valuations across the region and said it was Batelco's strategic intention to avoid being forced into an auction for Umniah, which would have in all likelihood driven the price up even higher. "We would have paid more if it was an auction situation. I am being very pragmatic - I paid market value. Is it more on the high side? Time will tell," Kaliaropoulos said shortly after the completion of the deal.

By November 2006, Umniah CEO Michael Dagher was able to report the operator had exceeded 700,000 subscribers and was able to inaugurate the operator's second switch in its Al Rasheed suburb building, increasing the network's capacity to 1.2 million subscribers.

The inauguration of Umniah's switch in November 2006 coincided with the activation of its mobile station no. 554 during the second phase of expansion, as well as with its inauguration of its 18-kilometre long fibre-optic cable during the first phase of a national plan to change the main stations in the kingdom into fibre-optic.

XPress Telecommunications, a private shareholding company, launched its services in June 2004, based on the Integrated Digital Enhanced Network (iDEN) technology. XPress was the first Arab company in the Middle East to introduce the technology, which combines the abilities of ordinary mobile phones with the instantaneous Direct Connect (walkie-talkie) service.

The company was granted the exclusivity of deploying iDEN by Motorola, which developed the technology in 1994 to offer contemporary solutions for the growing business sector needs, as well as other sectors requiring instantaneous, real time communication.

XPress received a US$54 million loan guarantee from Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank), marking Ex-Im Bank's largest financing of a telecommunications project in the Middle East, and its first limited-recourse project financing in the country.

XPress offers subscribers its primary Direct Connect service, which enables one-to-one and one-to-many immediate, real time communication with a push of the Direct Connect button, similar to "Walkie-Talkie" systems. In addition, subscribers have complete access to regular mobile phone services including SMS and packet data applications such as WAP and complete data transfer solutions.

The operator retains over 200 employees, 98% of whom are Jordanian and Xpress' own nationwide network covers 95% of populated areas across the country, and is continuously undergoing optimisation.

Last month XPress, announced the launch of its "Business Line", Jordan's first prepaid offer enabling subscribers to benefit from unlimited calls.

Operating in Jordan entails the provision of highly sophisticated tailor-made communication solutions that exceed satisfaction.

The XPress Business Line was the first of its kind in the Jordanian mobile market, enabling prepaid line users to benefit from unlimited mobile calls for a daily subscription fee of 35 piasters (US$0.49), which will be automatically deducted from the prepaid account.

"Operating in Jordan entails the provision of highly sophisticated tailor-made communication solutions that exceed satisfaction. The business line is not only guaranteed to facilitate enterprises' outcomes, but also play a major role in enriching their outcomes. Employees now can conduct unlimited instant, efficient, clear economic business calls for a fixed flat fee," stated Marwan Juma'a, CEO of XPress.

With the business line, small business prepaid subscribers will be provided with the opportunity to benefit from unlimited access to larger communication solutions and benefits offered to postpaid subscribers. The business line's unlimited calls include the walkie-talkie Push to Talk (PTT) service, which consists of local and international instant calling. The business line also enables reduced calls to other mobile operators.

Being the sole provider of the iDEN technology in Jordan, positions XPress as the mobile operator of choice for Jordanian enterprises. As a result of this exclusive technology, XPress is the only mobile operator providing the standard interconnect services in addition to the (PTT). This service offers subscribers the opportunity to benefit from instant and clear wireless calls to a single subscriber or a group of users. Today, the benefits of this service are not limited to local calls, contrarily with the International Push to Talk service (IPTT), both prepaid and monthly subscribers can enjoy XPress's technological advancements of unlimited international calls to regional destinations such as Saudi Arabia and Palestine for a fixed fee.

In addition to the time controlling, economical, and competent wireless services, XPress' peerless offerings include billing per second from the very first second, spending limit control and basic cellular services and feature.

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