Telecoms & IT

Room for More

The breakup of telecoms oligopoly and new players

Omantel, Ooredoo Oman, Friendi, and Renna are engaged in a fierce competition in Oman's mobile telecoms market, while another operator is on the way.

Upgrades to Oman’s telecoms sector began with the Sultanate’s renaissance in 1970 and gained momentum in 2002 after Oman’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) was established by royal decree to bring about constructive competition and increase service quality. Another milestone was achieved a year later when the government approved the Telecoms Liberalization Policy in 2003. Far from being a mere bureaucratic formality, the TRA has actively intervened in Oman’s telecoms market whenever competiveness has been at stake. All things considered, these policies seem to have yielded acceptable results as Oman is currently among the top-three Arab nations in terms of mobile phone penetration and was the third Arab nation to introduce 4G/LTE technology. While regulatory bodies mainly focus on encouraging competition and preventing antitrust, Oman’s Telecommunications Regulatory Act also tries to foster collaboration by encouraging the sharing of sites, antennas, and other equipment between the players in the country’s telecom sector—a provision that later turned out to be crucial for the birth of mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) and the preemption of any possible monopolies. Omantel was granted a license as a mobile network operator (MNO) in 2004, and Nawras Oman—currently featuring under the name of Oooredoo Oman—received a similar license in 2005. As of September 2018, the state-owned Omantel and Ooredoo Oman have a combined subscription of over 5,650,000, while Friendi Mobile and Renna Mobile, as MVNOs which resell mobile services using the existing infrastructure of Omantel, have managed to attract around a million customers. Given Oman’s population of 4,560,000, the mobile phone penetration rate in the sultanate is around 145%, which indicates market saturation. As such, a fierce competition has been going on between operators and resellers in recent months. Resellers may not seem like fully fledged operators since they rely on another carrier’s infrastructure; however, from an end-user’s vantage point they are legitimate operators with their own pricing policies and promotional packages. Despite having a modest combined market share of around 15%, FRiENDi Mobile and Renna Mobile have gained ground in the country by offering more affordable plans and promotions that appeal to the younger generation. Meanwhile, there are talks about the arrival of a third operator, which according to Oman’s Transportation and Telecommunication Ministry will be owned by a consortium comprising local funds and an international operator—a role that KSA’s Saudi Telecom, Kuwait’s Zain, and UAE’s Emirates’ Etisalat are all eager to assume.

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