x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Mobile upstart Friendi seeks to extend its gains in Oman

Friendi Group, a small telecommunications operator based in Dubai, has surpassed a subscriber milestone in Oman earlier than expected.

Mikkel Vinter, the chief executive of Friendi.
Mikkel Vinter, the chief executive of Friendi.

Friendi Group, a small telecommunications operator based in Dubai, has surpassed a subscriber milestone in Oman earlier than expected as it looks to expand its mobile service offerings throughout the Middle East. Mikkel Vinter, the chief executive and founder of Friendi, said the company had signed up about 150,000 subscribers after the Omani telecoms regulator allowed it to launch a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) service last April.

That means the company has surpassed its subscriber targets by about 50 per cent and now has about 4 per cent of the Omani telecoms market. "We've put in a lot of time and investment into Oman," said Mr Vinter. "We haven't had one second of network downtime, which we're rather proud of. That gives everyone some comfort that we're not some fly-by-night that comes in and customers start complaining."

MVNO companies work by forming a partnership with an existing telecoms operator to purchase voice and text packages at wholesale rates and then bundle services to sell to its own subscribers. Friendi was the first MVNO to launch operations in Oman, but was followed shortly afterwards by Renna Mobile and Mazoon Mobile. Oman has two traditionally configured operators, Omantel and Nawras. Mr Vinter declined to provide detailed revenue information for the privately held company, but said he expected Friendi to pass the break-even point in the next six months.

MVNOs typically yield margins on its earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation of 10 per cent to 15 per cent, less than the 30 to 50 per cent for traditional telecoms companies. The MVNO model has found success in North American and European markets and Mr Vinter is adamant it can make an impact in other regional countries. Friendi is about to launch a MVNO service in Jordan in the next quarter following a wholesale rate deal with Zain. However, penetrating the market as a new player will be tougher because Jordan has four telecoms operators compared with two in Oman.

Mr Vinter said Friendi would target specific markets such as expatriates or youth as well as professionals such as teachers to stand out from its competitors. "It's a pretty fierce market," he said. "They've had competition for longer than the other regional markets. We're very respectful of that but we have a combination of concepts that have worked in Oman as well as something that is market specific."

Mr Vinter confirmed that he remained in discussions with operators in 10 countries in the MENA region. He expects to land at least one deal to launch services by the end of the year. "I'm spending about 70 to 80 per cent of my time doing business development in new countries," Mr Vinter said. dgeorgecosh@thenational.ae