Forging ahead: Despite a highly competitive environment, operators continue to invest in mobile network upgrades

The mobile sector in Jordan is marked by stiff competition. Indeed, in its 2012 Cellular Competition Intensity Index Amman-based Arab Advisors Group said the kingdom had the most competitive mobile telephony market in the region after Saudi Arabia, having evaluated the number of operators and services available in 19 Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries. Competition in the local telecoms sector is positioned to become all the more intense if a fourth network operator is allowed to enter. The government regulator, the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC), said it was open to the possibility of a fourth entrant when it announced the bidding process for new mobile frequency bands in December 2012. Too much competition can hamper investment, especially in telecoms, where operators focus intensely on guarding their market shares. However, Jordan’s operators continue to invest in upgrading the quality of the country’s mobile network. Indeed, the average mobile broadband download and upload rates in the kingdom were slightly higher than the region’s average, according to data from the Global Cloud Index collected by US-based network solutions provider giant, Cisco Systems. Jordan had an average download speed of 1801 kilobits per second (kbps) and an average upload speed of 845 kbps, compared to respective regional averages of 1792 kbps and 722 kbps. Faster mobile broadband is a key asset for any economy, especially one encouraging the development of its information technology sector. “Quality of the network is key for improving people’s lives and attracting businesses, and Jordan is performing well in this regard compared to the rest of the countries in the region,” a representative from Cisco told The Jordan Times in December 2012.

FOREIGN INTEREST: All three operators responsible for building the country’s mobile broadband network are linked to multinational telecoms companies: Jordan Telecom Group (JTG) is partnered with France Telecom, Zain with Kuwait-based MTC and Umniah with Bahrain’s Batelco. These three firms and their parent companies have made significant investments in network upgrades and 3G services. Between 2009 and 2011, mobile investments in Jordan reached JD345m ($485.24m), according the TRC, higher than investments in all other IT and telecommunications areas combined: inter-net, JD137m ($192.7m); fixed phone, JD53m ($74.5m); and other services, JD2.3m ($3.23m). The 3G roll-out has driven mobile investments. JTG’s Orange was the first operator to launch 3G March 2010. The firm spent JD50m ($70.3m) on the operating licence alone. Zain then implemented its 3G network in March 2011, with investments around JD120m ($168.8m). In January 2012 the kingdom’s third-largest operator by market share, Umniah, received a 3G licence on the 2.1 GHz frequency band and launched its mobile broadband services in June 2012. Umniah markets its service as “3.75G”, as it uses dual-cell HSPA+ technology for faster connections than the HSPA+ networks of other operators. Umniah’s 3G investments exceeded $120m, half of which was spent on infrastructure and half on the operating licence, Ahmad Al Jaghoub, Umniah’s director of engineering, told press in June 2012.

LOOKING AHEAD: Although carriers have rolled out 3G networks, they are not resting, and network investments continue. In the first quarter of 2012, Orange announced an agreement with Sweden-based Erics-son to upgrade and expand its 2G and 3G networks, in addition to preparing some 3G base stations to support 4G long-term evolution (LTE) technologies, while Umniah launched its own 4G LTE technology, introducing it in March 2013. Zain also announced an agreement with Ericsson in October 2012 to upgrade its 3G network, a step that could both improve its 3G offerings and begin paving the way for its own 4G services. Still, given the sector’s competition and the recent investments in 3G services, an immediate shift to 4G LTE is not likely for any operator. “We introduced the 3G services two years ago and there is still room for adoption and growth,” Jean-François Thomas, JTG’s CEO, told the press in a public statement in November 2012.

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