Karl Michael Henneking, chief corporate strategy and marketing officer of Saudi Arabian mobile operator Etihad Etisalat (Mobily), has announced that the company will start leasing its mobile phone network to a new mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), London-based Jawraa Group (Lebara), allowing it to launch services in the country by end-March 2014. Reuters quotes Henneking as saying: ‘We expect Lebara to launch services in the first quarter of 2014. The [Communications and IT Commission] CITC is supposed to issue the licences at the end of January.’ Henneking also pointed out that Lebara will assist Mobily in ‘gaining market share in a segment we are not so strong in’, and hinted that the MVNO might target expatriate residents, which amount to an estimated one-fifth of the country’s population. Further, Mobily is reportedly planning to lease its newly developed internet-based billing platform, which will be used to run Lebara’s operations, to other would-be virtual operators in the Middle East.
As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, in June 2013 Saudi Arabia’s telecoms watchdog the CITC shortlisted three companies for MVNO licences – Dubai-based Axiom Union Mobile, in collaboration with Zain Saudi Arabia (formerly Saudi MTC), Virgin Mobile MEA (VMMEA), with host provider Saudi Telecoms Company (STC) and Jawraa Group (Lebara), in partnership with Mobily. In order to qualify for an MVNO licence in Saudi Arabia, companies need to sign an agreement for network alliance with one of the three incumbents in the Kingdom.