x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Four rivals fight over local crown

4G for the UAE: Etisalat is the fourth telecoms operator claiming to be first in launching a 4G network in the Middle East, indicating a PR rivalry between players.

You wait for months for the launch of a 4G internet service - and then four come along at once.

There has been something of a public-relations battle in recent weeks in the regional telecommunications industry, with four operators claiming to be first in launching next-generation internet services.

Earlier this month the three leading mobile telecoms operators in Saudi Arabia claimed to be first to launch 4G services there. The Saudi Telecom Company (STC), Mobily and Zain Saudi Arabia made rival claims on the title within days of each other.

Etisalat yesterday became the fourth operator to make such a claim - indicating ongoing one-upmanship between operators, and a degree of confusion over the definition of the new technology.

The UAE telecoms company said it was the first in the region to launch 4G with "full mobility", using long-term evolution (LTE) technology.

"We are the first in the country and the Middle East to have the LTE-mobile 4G network ready," said Saeed Al Zarouni, the senior vice president of mobile engineering at Etisalat. "Others announced in the region, but … we are the first to announce with full mobility."

Etisalat says it is the first regional operator to offer "seamless" transition between 4G and 3G areas of coverage. This allows users to experience high-speed internet throughout the country over local mobile networks, it said.

While "4G" is used as a marketing term, the technologies deployed by regional operators is better described as LTE, say analysts.

"They are using the term 4G a bit more widely than they should do, really," said Matthew Reed, a senior analyst for the Middle East and Africa at Informa Telecoms & Media. "There is a common misunderstanding perpetuated by telcos and vendors."

Mr Reed said the next-generation mobile internet technologies - LTE and WiMAX - do not strictly qualify as 4G. "It would only be the next version of LTE, which would be LTE Advanced and the next version of WiMAX that would correctly qualify as 4G," he said.

"It is a bit misleading according to the stricter definitions applied by the industry bodies."