Operators battle to be first with Middle East LTE

Mobile operators Etisalat in the UAE and Mobily in Saudi Arabia are vying to become the first LTE operator in the Middle East.

Both have announced plans to launch LTE in 3Q11, although it looks as though Etisalat may now be delaying its rollout until the fourth quarter of the year.

Etisalat’s CTO, Marwan Zawaydeh, said at Informa Telecoms and Media’s LTE MENA 2011 conference, held in Dubai in April, that the firm was satisfied with its trials of LTE and that the market was ready for the technology, giving the impression that a launch was imminent.

However, according to Matthew Reed, senior analyst and head of Mobile Research MEA at Informa Telecoms and Media, Etisalat has altered its marketing messages to reset consumers expectations and that the service will now be available towards the end of the year.

“It doesn’t seem to be a technical issue that’s holding it up but more of a marketing issue. They don’t want to launch it prematurely and want to have a clear and compelling pricing strategy,” he said.

“There’s also the seasonal nature of the Middle East, the third quarter is when Ramadan and Eid fall, which slows down business activity, particularly in Dubai. So it’s likely that Etisalat will launch towards the end of the year.”

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabian operator Mobily faces hurdles of its own. Problems with the allocation of LTE spectrum in Saudi Arabia mean that operators in the country cannot follow their preferred choice of launching FDD-LTE in the 2.6GHz band, it is currently being used by the military. Mobily will therefore launch a TD-LTE service using spectrum that it holds through a subsidiary.

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