Etisalat will launch a new music and games platform on its entertainment portal as the annual Gitex technology show gets under way in Dubai tomorrow. The UAE's largest telecommunications firm will include a dedicated online channel called X-Games on its Weyak site, which means "with you". The new channel will offer 1,100 multiplayer games including Counterstrike, WarHammer and Left 4 Dead. Access to the games is free. However, Etisalat will charge Dh38 (US$10.34) a month for users who want to customise their own UAE-based servers, where gamers from the region and around the world can play.
Regional telecoms are seeking to add new web services and expand international operations to diversify their income streams. Etisalat this week agreed to buy Millicom International Cellular's Sri Lanka unit for about $155 million in cash. "As a value-added service offered to our existing customers, Weyak provides a differentiated experience to our customers who now expect many innovative offerings from Etisalat beyond plain vanilla connectivity solutions," said Mohammed al Mulla, Etisalat's senior director for digital media services.
Etisalat employees and their friends have been testing the online gaming portal in recent months to identify any bugs. The launch upgrades Eitsalat's Boomtown gaming service, which has been criticised in online forums for being too costly and disorganised. XGames, by comparison, will appeal to serious gamers where the fastest internet connections are the main difference between winning and losing.
Responding to the lack of a fully fledged iTunes Music Store in the UAE, Weyak will also launch a music website containing more than 1.5 million songs in English, Hindi and Arabic. Each song will cost Dh4.95 per download and Etisalat has linked with most of the music industry's major record labels, such as EMI, Sony BMG and Universal, for content. Although Weyak is unlikely to be a big revenue earner for Etisalat, the service will help drive customer loyalty as competition to retain subscribers to the company's internet and mobile phone offerings heats up.
Etisalat's main competitor in the UAE mobile market, du, made a splash of its own in the lead-up to Gitex with the announcement it would begin offering Apple's iPhone to its subscribers by the end of the month. Although du has not disclosed a release date, the company has generated a significant amount of discussion online through forums and local Twitter users. Although mobile may be the most significant story of this year's Gitex - expect almost every single vendor to offer wireless products and services - perhaps the more compelling one is a first-hand look at how the economic downturn has affected the local technology industry.
As last year's conference took place on the cusp of the global credit crisis, analysts and industry insiders will be looking closely at how technology companies will fare after a year of pared down spending in the IT sector. "People will be looking at technology as a way to manage costs and improve productivity. As a result of that, Gitex as a whole is more focused as to what we're going to get out of it," said Andrew Bone, the regional director for Hill and Knowlton, a public relations firm that represents several of this year's exhibitors.