By Richard Agnew
Al Jawal, the mobile arm of Saudi Telecoms Company, is planning to ramp up its data service portfolio this year.
With a new entrant due to come into the Saudi market by early 2005, Al Jawal, the mobile arm of STC, is planning to ramp up its data service portfolio.
In the offing over the coming weeks are launches of interactive SMS services, including TV voting and chat applications, and a platform for more advanced mobile services to be provided by banks in the Kingdom.
These will supplement the 'JawalNet' GPRS services and 'Abwab' third-party content portfolio launched by Al Jawal in late 2003.
"The focus of Al Jawal was previously to fill the backlog of services [and] increase coverage — the Kingdom's population is geographically spread and there a lot of empty spaces," says Jameel Al-Molhem, general manager of marketing at Al Jawal.
"Heading into 2004, we have started a shift with the launch of our Abwab content service last year. We are planning to launch interactive SMS services through deals with magazines, newspapers, and TV stations. We are also ready to offer a mobile service in coordination with banks," he adds.
The SIM Application Toolkit (SAT)-based Abwab service, which provides news and entertainment services to users through a menu residing on their phones' SIM cards, has been subscribed to by over 15% of the operator's post-paid users, according to Al Jawal.
Additionally, the operator plans to launch the service for pre-paid users once technical and billing issues have been sorted out. “Abwab will be extended to pre-paid users this year. This is an important segment to serve," says Al-Molhem.
The launch of the operator's SMS voting service, meanwhile, is planned shortly for both segments, alongside local broadcaster, Saudi TV.
Al Jawal also intends to extend its bulk-SMS banking service at the end of Q1 or in Q2, to allow banks to have two-way interaction with clients.
The operator’s GPRS service portfolio, however, is unlikely to be extended in the near term to include MMS because of regulatory issues over camera phones and the service itself.
Nevetherless, Al Jawal says it is currently evaluating the possible provision of GPRS roaming and instant messaging (IM), either alongside a dedicated mobile IM vendor or internet IM provider such as Yahoo! or MSN.