Virgin Mobile launches in Saudi Arabia

Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa (VMMEA) has begun services in Saudi Arabia. In a shake-up to the kingdom’s mobile market, the Communication and Information Technology Commission of Saudi Arabia (CITC) has ordered each of the country’s three mobile operators to host an MVNO to boost competition.

As reported by Reuters, VMMEA has launched two brands in the market: Virgin Mobile targeted at the youth segment, and Friendi Mobile aimed at expatriate workers. VMMEA is partnering with Saudi Arabia’s STC, while Jawraa Lebara has teamed up with the country’s second biggest operator Mobily. Similarly, Dubai retailer Axiom Telecom entered into an agreement with Zain Saudi, but the licence has since been put up for a retender by the Saudi national regulator.

The whole process of setting up MVNOs in the Saudi market hasn’t gone without some difficulties. VMMEA was first awarded the licence by CITC in March, and at the time the company said it was expecting to launch operations in Saudi Arabia with the first half of 2014. There have, however, been some problems in arranging interconnection with the other operators, and satisfying state security concerns have also caused delay.

Saudi Arabia is only the second country in the gulf region to allow MVNOs, with only Oman having launched such services earlier. VMMEA, which is partly owned by British Virgin Group, also has operations in Oman, Jordan, South Africa and Malaysia. It is expected other countries in the region will follow Saudi Arabia’s example, and start allowing MVNOs.

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