Qtel Dialled In


Economic News

22 Jul 2010
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The recent decision to open up Qatar's telecom market doesn't appear to concern the emirate's only telecommunications services provider, quite the reverse in fact, with Qtel apparently raising the bar that any potential competitors will have to vault over.

To date, there have been no public expressions of interest by other firms to set up shop in opposition to Qtel after Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani issued new legislation in early November ending the company's monopoly status.

According to Hessa al-Jaber, the secretary general of Qatar's Supreme Council of Information and Communications Technology, opening up the telecommunication sector will serve to drive the emirate's economic and social development.

"We can look forward to investment from an array of new industries, brand new jobs across the economy and innovative ways of doing business in the public and private sectors," said al-Jaber in mid-November.

Qtel itself has welcomed the liberalisation of the domestic telecommunications sector, with Nasser Marafih, the company's chief executive officer, saying that with Qatar being an important and fast growing market it was appropriate that competition be introduced.

Though Qtel will have lost its monopoly status, it will retain the exclusive rights on its existing networks, meaning any newcomer will have to construct the infrastructure necessary to provide services.

While there may not be any potential competitors on the horizon, Qtel has been behaving as if it is in a do or die battle with rivals. Over the past few weeks it has been busy unveiling new services, reducing the rates on international calls and announcing an expansion of its already wide scope of operations.

On November 21, Qtel announced that it had acquired a 38.2% stake, valued at $28m, in AT&T's business data service Navlink, further strengthening the Qatar firm's already solid ties with the US telecom giant, the two firms having already announced they would co-operate in the establishing of a world-class data centre in Doha as part of AT&T's global network.

"This deal is a major step forward in our strategy to become a significant player in the region's Enterprise Data Market and to provide our customers with true world-class solutions," Marafih told a press conference when unveiling the deal.

Only days before, Qtel started trials of handheld video services, with plans to launch full commercial broadcasting on the new medium next year. During the trial phase of Digital Video Broadcast-Handheld (DVB-H) Qtel will be offering up to 13 channels of sports, entertainment and news as well as coverage of the Asian Games in Doha. Qatar will thus become the first country in the Middle East to have a DVB-H service and one of the first in the world.

On November 21, the company's chairman, Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohamed bin Saud Al-Thani, said that they were looking to expand into markets other than those in the Arab world.

Saying that there would be "some good news very soon", Sheikh Abdullah said that Qtel's strategic plan included investments both within the country and internationally. Citing Qtel's operation in Oman, where it has a stake in the emirate's second telecom service provider, Nawras Telecom, he said that there were new expansion plans in the offing.

The company's most immediate challenge will be providing smooth communications services for the forthcoming Asian Games, scheduled to open on December 1. Having ploughed $137m in new investments ahead of the event, including the provision of terrestrial trunked radio (Tetra), a professional mobile radio system that will link more than 6500 officials during the games, Qtel is eyeing the event as an international platform on which to promote its wares.

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