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Call for greater competition will be answered soon, says Etisalat boss

  |  October 29, 2012

Ahmad Abdulkarim Julfar, chief executive of Etisalat Group. (Jake Badger / The National)
Jake Badger
Ahmad Abdulkarim Julfar, chief executive of Etisalat Group. (Jake Badger / The National)

Two long-delayed initiatives designed to boost competition between the UAE’s telecommunications operators are expected to go live soon, according to the head of Etisalat Group.

It was announced in 2010 that Etisalat and its rival du would be allowed to compete freely in selling broadband, landline and TV subscriptions across the UAE, under a technology known as infrastructure sharing.

Another initiative called mobile-number portability, through which customers would be able to switch between the two mobile operators while retaining the same number, was also tipped to boost competition within the sector.

Both initiatives have been repeatedly delayed. But Ahmad Abdulkarim Julfar, the group chief executive officer of Etisalat, says he expects them to be implemented soon.

“They will happen,” he said.

The last hurdle in introducing infrastructure sharing is the agreement of commercial terms between Etisalat and du. Mr Julfar said he was confident that this would be resolved in the near future.

“On the infrastructure-sharing, all the technical issues have been resolved. It’s only now the final negotiation on the commercial terms, which we are very optimistic will be concluded soon,” he told The National.

Etisalat and du are currently restricted to selling broadband and landline services to selected areas of the UAE, with du’s territory limited to a few small, highly populated districts of Dubai.

Broadband fees in the UAE are high compared with many other markets, with du having recently launched a high-speed package costing a whopping Dh999 a month.

Analysts had expected the launch of fixed-line sharing to prompt lower subscription charges.

The ability for customers to switch operator without changing their mobile number was also expected to boost competition within the UAE telecoms sector.

“On the mobile-number portability, I think the regulator will issue some instruction to initiate the service soon,” said Mr Julfar.

Etisalat has been hit hard in its domestic market since its monopoly was broken by the new operator du, which now claims a 47.2 per cent share of mobile subscribers in the UAE.

But Etisalat’s foreign business has been growing apace, despite setbacks in India and its failed attempt to acquire rival operator Zain Group.

Etisalat’s third-quarter results show that its revenues from 15 international operations grew 7 per cent to Dh2.4bn.

Mr Julfar said that its operation in Nigeria had secured funding for network expansion and to improve the quality of service there.

“What the operation needed was around $650 million. And that already has been secured... by Etisalat Nigeria,” said Mr Julfar.