Etisalat and du have welcomed a new ruling by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) that is likely to cut both calling costs and barriers to switching landline operators. The introduction of carrier preselection should lead to more intense competition in international calling prices, the TRA said. The system allows customers to use calling services from multiple providers over a single phone line.
The only two players in the UAE telecommunications field have said that increased competition would benefit their businesses, with both companies expecting to gain customers. "We welcome competition," said Essa al Haddad, Etisalat's chief marketing officer. "Customers will ultimately benefit from superior services and better value propositions." A statement from du said the TRA ruling was timely, and "will open the market to both operators, which is obviously beneficial to the growth of both of them".
Since the launch of du early last year, households and businesses across the UAE have theoretically been able to switch their landline telephone accounts between the two operators. But technical and procedural limitations have meant that the choice was not available to many customers. The UAE remains the only country in the GCC closed to foreign competition in its telecommunications sector. A special exemption to a World Trade Organisation agreement mandating telecom liberalisation means the national market can remain closed until 2015.
The carrier preselection system, which the TRA hopes to have in place by the end of the year, will mean that an Etisalat customer could choose to use du exclusively for international calling, or vice versa. Such a system was originally called for in a TRA policy paper released in June 2006, but the timeline for implementation was left open, to be decided by later TRA briefings. Since mid-2007, du has offered a similar service to Etisalat customers, branded under the Call Select name.
To use it, customers attached an external dialling device to their landline phone, which would route international calls through the du network. Once the national carrier preselection system is implemented, such devices will not be necessary, as the routing will be done by software at the network level. "We are constantly innovating and introducing first-to-market products and services," the du statement said.
"This is not dependent on any external factors or regulations, but is an ongoing process which our customers will continue to enjoy the benefits of." Mr Haddad predicted that Etisalat customers would stay with the company after the launch of the system, based on the company's track record of service and pricing. "We are committed to giving our customers competitive calling options," he said. "We have proven that time and again."