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Wed 29 Apr 2009 01:00 PM

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Timing is key

It has finally happened. After a number of false dawns and missed deadlines, the Middle East’s first-ever virtual mobile network is now up and running and open for business.

It has finally happened. After a number of false dawns and missed deadlines, the Middle East’s first-ever virtual mobile network is now up and running and open for business.

Friendi beat rival Oman Mobile reseller Renna to market when it launched yesterday on April 28, with deals that it hopes will entice the migrant workforce in the Sultanate.

One week ago, a conference dedicated to MVNOs in developing markets took place in Dubai, and it provided an interesting insight into the resellers market. It turned out to be a dress rehearsal for what has just taken place in Oman; Friendi Group CEO Mikkel Vinter spoke first, followed by Renna CEO Niklas Nielsen.

Mid-way through Nielsen’s presentation, a delegate from an operator in Afghanistan who was sitting next to me said: “I didn’t realise that there was more than one MVNO launching in Oman”. It was a telling comment.

Throughout his speech Nielsen rather cordially referred to Vinter as his “colleague” and made a number of references to Friendi. But during his analysis of the market, Vinter didn’t mention Renna once. It could be a sign of Friendi’s focus, and its determination to concentrate its efforts on churning customers from the second mobile operator in Oman, Nawras. Or maybe it is a lack of appreciation of the competition that Renna will provide. Only time - and the first set of subscriber numbers to land on our desks - will tell.

When I spoke with him, Renna boss Nielsen did not seem troubled by the prospect of being second to launch. He thinks that a difference of a few days will eventually prove to be inconsequential, and he gave the example of two MVNOs in his native Denmark that launched months apart and now, five years later, they have almost identical subscriber bases.

Even less concerned with rushing to market was Faisal Al Bannai, CEO of retail giant Axiom. With a retail and distribution network in place throughout the Middle East and India, and an established brand, he is well placed to enter the reseller market.

At the moment he is concentrating on striking the right deal with a host operator in order to make sure that Axiom secures the best possible terms.

“Our view is, let’s talk, let’s discuss, we know the assets we have, so we have to reach a win-win deal,” he said. “And the win-win approach comes as operators feel more and more their resources are running out.”

Some of the analysts present at last week’s conference didn’t think there was much of an appetite from MNOs towards MVNOs in the region, and if the poor attendance at the event was anything to go by, they could be right. Indeed, the other licensed resellers in Oman who have been unable to secure a wholesale deal with Nawras could testify to that. But as growth slows operators should begin to see that the right deal with the right MVNO will help them to add more subscribers.

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