Middle East - Mobile Network Operators and MVNOs


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Many Middle Eastern mobile operators are facing increased challenges in the mobile sector, due primarily to regulatory reforms, liberalisation, Over-The-Top providers, economic and civil conditions, the lifting of sanctions (Iran) and mobile market saturation.

Competition in particular has grown in many markets. Saudi Arabia, which has the largest ICT market in the Middle East, has seen mobile market competition increase significantly with the introduction of MVNOs; along with a reduction in Mobile Termination Rates (MTRS).

The level of competition differs between country to country however. The mobile market in the UAE, for example, is served by a duopoly comprised of incumbent Etisalat and, since 2007, competing operator du. Both operators are majority owned by the government.

In Israel, factors that have helped drive competition include the introduction of full mobile number portability and the installation of regulatory barriers that prevent operators from linking sales of handsets to services, or offering discounts to customers that commit to longer periods. Strong competition in Israel has led to operators focusing on mobile data and content opportunities as well as on costs, resulting in a number of infrastructure sharing agreements.

To cope with rising competition in Bahrain, Batelco, expanded its operations internationally to offset the competitive domestic market and its foreign operations now contribute almost 60% to group revenues.

In Lebanon, there has been growing pressure from both consumers and the telecommunications minister to see the two mobile operators (Alfa and Touch) lower mobile pricing. In response, the operators began offering cheaper packages in late 2016. Jordan’s mobile operators have also begun to experience a similar growing discontent from its mobile consumers as its telecoms sector is one of the most highly taxed in the region.

Taxes have also impacted upon Iraq’s telecoms markets where the mobile operators’ revenues have declined due partly to the 20% tax levy placed against mobile services in 2015.

The mobile market in Kuwait is highly competitive amongst the three major mobile providers, (Zain, Ooredoo, Viva) and while Zain has the highest market share of about 38%, the other two are not far behind, capturing over 30% each as well.

The various OTT messaging providers have disrupted the market in Oman. This has caused a decline in revenue from streams such as SMS as well as voice for the traditional operators. To combat this trend, the major operators in Oman are focusing on improving the customer experience through both fixed and mobile network upgrades.

In Qatar, both Ooredoo and Vodafone Qatar have launched mobile broadband services, underpinned by 3G or LTE networks. Adoption of such services provides a new revenue growth opportunity as the mobile voice market has come under increased competition.

The operators in Syria face additional issues surrounding security concerns, power outages, staff retention and access to diesel. Despite this challenging environment, there are some glimpses of hope with both mobile operators reporting growth in mobile data services. Growth in Yemen’s mobile market however has all but reached a stalemate due to ongoing civil unrest.

Generally speaking, the mobile operators have risen to the challenges presented across the various markets. By using methods such as network infrastructure sharing, international expansion, acquisitions and partnerships, cost cutting and service improvements, many of the operators continue to survive and even grow. Focusing on mobile broadband opportunities is becoming particularly beneficial to many operators. 

Key developments:

  • While the number of post-paid subscribers in Bahrain is lower than pre-paid – this market segment actually contributes around 52% to overall retail mobile market revenues;
  • MCI holds the majority market share in Iran’s mobile market with 57%;
  • In January 2017, it was reported that Electra Consumer Products from Israel had agreed to acquire Golan Telecom.
  • Lebanon’s Alfa, in conjunction with Nokia, recently launched the first LTE-A network in Lebanon.
  • In 2016 Etisalat reported an annual revenue increase of 2.0% which was attributed to rising data usage in the UAE as well as an increase in revenues derived from the enterprise sector.
  • Mobile data services are becoming an increasingly important source of new revenue in Iraq given the maturing mobile voice market.
  • The well-established mobile sector in Kuwait sees the large operators moving towards offering more value-added services as well as conducting technology and network upgrades.
  • Ooredoo Qatar aims to have the first stage of its 5G network deployed by 2018.
  • The two major mobile operators in Oman (Oman Mobile, Ooredoo Oman) are investing huge amounts in expanding and improving upon mobile networks in order to keep up with the growing demand for data.
  • In early 2017 reports were surfacing that a third mobile operator would enter the Syrian mobile market based on a consortium from Iran.
  • Operators in Saudi Arabia are turning their attention towards new service offering such as M2M and cloud related services. 

Companies mentioned in this report

Mobile Telecommunications Co (MTC) / Zain, Ooredoo Kuwait (previously National Mobile Telecommunication Co (NMT) / Wataniya Telecom), Kuwait Telecom Company (KTC) / Viva, Batelco, Zain Bahrain, Viva Bahrain, Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI), Mobile Communications Iran (MCI), MTN Irancell, Tamin Telecom (Rightel), Mobile Telecommunications Company of Isfahan (MTCE), Telecommunication Kish Company (TKC), Iraqi Telephone and Postal Company (ITPC), Asiacell, Zain Iraq, Korek Telecom, Regional Telecom, Cellcom, Orange (Partner), Pelephone (Bezeq), HOT Mobile, Golan Telecom, Rami Levy, Jordan Telecom Group/Orange, Zain Jordan, Batelco/Umniah, Saudi Telecom Company (STC)/Bravo, Integrated Telecom Company (ITC)/Bayn Consortium, GO Telecom/Etihad Atheeb, Mobily/Ettihad Etisalat/Bayanat Al-Oula, Zain KSA, Lebara KSA/Etihad Jawraa, Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa (Virgin Mobile MEA), Axiom Telecom, VIVA, Etisalat, du, Jordan Telecom Group/Orange, Zain Jordan, Batelco/Umniah, MTC Touch, Alfa Telecom, Ooredoo Qatar, Vodafone Qatar, OmanTel, Ooredoo Oman, FRiENDi, Majan Telecom (Renna), Samatel, Syrian Telecommunication Establishment (STE), MTN Syria, Syriatel, Turkcell, Vodafone Turkey, Avea.

Table of Content

1. Regional mobile overview
1.1 Overview by country
1.1.1 Bahrain
1.1.2 Israel
1.1.3 Lebanon
1.1.4 Saudi arabia
1.1.5 United arab emirates
1.1.6 Iran
1.1.7 Jordan
1.1.8 Oman
1.1.9 Syria
1.1.10 Yemen
1.1.11 Iraq
1.1.12 Kuwait
1.1.13 Qatar
1.1.14 Turkey
1.2 Regional mobile subscriber statistics
1.3 Leading mobile operators by country

2. Bahrain
2.1 Market analysis
2.2 Regulatory issues
2.2.1 Second mobile licence
2.2.2 Third mobile licence
2.2.3 Prepaid subscriber registration
2.2.4 Roaming tariff reduction
2.2.5 MNP
2.3 Major mobile operators
2.3.1 Batelco
2.3.2 Zain Bahrain
2.3.3 Viva Bahrain / STC Bahrain

3. Iran
3.1 Market analysis
3.2 Regulatory issues
3.2.1 Third Mobile licence – Tamin Telecom
3.2.2 Second GSM licence – Irancell
3.3 Major mobile operators
3.3.1 TCI/Mobile Communications Iran (MCI)/Hamrah-e-Avval
3.3.2 MTN Irancell
3.3.3 Tamin Telecom (Rightel)
3.3.4 Taliya/Rafsanjan Industrial Complex Islamic Cooperative Company (RIC)

4. Iraq
4.1 Market analysis
4.2 Regulatory issues
4.2.1 Temporary mobile licences awarded in 2003
4.2.2 Permanent licences awarded in 2007
4.2.3 Fourth mobile licence
4.3 Mobile operator statistics
4.4 Major mobile operators
4.4.1 Asiacell Communications
4.4.2 Zain Iraq (formerly MTC Atheer)
4.4.3 Korek Telecom
4.4.4 Regional Telecom / Fastlink

5. Israel
5.1 Market analysis
5.1.1 Recent developments
5.2 Mobile operator statistics
5.3 Major mobile operators
5.3.1 Operators
5.3.2 MVNOs

6. Jordan
6.1 Market analysis
6.2 Regulatory issues
6.2.1 Third GSM licence
6.2.2 3G licences
6.2.3 4G spectrum
6.2.4 SIM card registration
6.2.5 MTRs
6.3 Mobile operator statistics
6.4 Major mobile operators
6.4.1 Zain Jordan
6.4.2 Orange Jordan
6.4.3 Umniah
6.4.4 MVNOs

7. Kuwait
7.1 Market analysis
7.2 Regulatory issues
7.2.1 Third mobile operator
7.2.2 Mobile Number Portability (MNP)
7.2.3 Roaming tariff reduction
7.2.4 Spectrum refarming for LTE
7.3 Mobile operator statistics
7.4 Major mobile operators
7.4.1 Zain Kuwait
7.4.2 Ooredoo Kuwait
7.4.3 Viva

8. Lebanon
8.1 Market analysis
8.2 Regulatory issues
8.2.1 Overview
8.2.2 Lebanon’s current mobile contracts
8.2.3 Open international tender 2015
8.3 Mobile operator statistics
8.4 Major mobile operators
8.4.1 Touch (operated by Zain)
8.4.2 Alfa

9. Oman
9.1 Mobile market analysis
9.2 Regulatory issues
9.2.1 Second mobile licence
9.2.2 Third mobile licence
9.2.3 Reseller/MVNO licences
9.2.4 Roaming
9.2.5 MNP
9.3 Major mobile operators
9.3.1 Oman Mobile Telecommunications (OMTC)
9.3.2 MVNOs

10. Qatar
10.1 Market analysis
10.2 Regulatory issues
10.2.1 Second mobile licence
10.2.2 Mobile virtual network operator (MVNO)
10.2.3 Roaming tariff reduction
10.2.4 NP
10.3 Mobile operator statistics
10.4 Major mobile operators
10.4.1 Ooredoo Qatar
10.4.2 Vodafone Qatar

11. Saudi Arabia
11.1 Market analysis
11.2 Regulatory issues
11.2.1 Award of second GSM mobile licence
11.2.2 iDEN contract awarded
11.2.3 Award of Third Generation (3G) licences
11.2.4 Award of third mobile licence
11.2.5 Roaming
11.2.6 MTRs
11.2.7 Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs)
11.2.8 Fingerprinting law
11.3 Major mobile operators
11.3.1 Saudi Telecom Company (STC)
11.3.2 Mobily (Etihad Etisalat)
11.3.3 Zain KSA
11.4 Mobile operator statistics

12. Syria
12.1 Market analysis
12.2 Regulatory issues
12.2.1 Third mobile licence
12.2.2 Current BOT contracts/Long term free hold licenses
12.3 Operators
12.3.1 Syriatel
12.3.2 MTN Syria

13. Turkey
13.1 Market analysis
13.2 Recent developments
13.3 Regulatory issues
13.3.1 Overview (recent general laws and regulations)
13.3.2 Third Generation (3G) licences
13.3.3 Third and fourth GSM licences
13.3.4 Significant market power (SMP)
13.3.5 MTRs
13.3.6 Mobile Number Portability (MNP)
13.3.7 Telsim privatisation
13.4 Mobile operator statistics
13.5 Major mobile operators
13.5.1 Turkcell
13.5.2 Vodafone Turkey
13.5.3 Turk Telekom (formerly Avea)

14. United Arab Emirates
14.1 Market analysis
14.2 Regulatory issues
14.2.1 Roaming tariff reduction
14.2.2 MNP
14.3 Mobile operator statistics
14.4 Major mobile operators
14.4.1 Etisalat
14.4.2 du (Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company)

15. Yemen
15.1 Market analysis
15.2 Regulatory issues
15.2.1 GSM licences awarded
15.2.2 Third GSM licence
15.3 Major mobile operators
15.3.1 MTN Yemen
15.3.2 SabaFon
15.3.3 TeleYemen/Yemen Mobile
15.3.4 HiTS Unitel/Y Telecom

Table 1 – Middle East – mobile subscribers, annual change and penetration by country – 2014 - 2016
Table 2 – Middle East - leading mobile operators by subscribers and country
Table 3 – Accepted cumulative mobile number portability requests – 2011 - 2015
Table 4 – Bahrain - Batelco total group mobile subscribers – 2005 – Q2 2016
Table 5 – Zain Bahrain – revenue, EBITDA, CAPEX and ARPU - 2005 – 2015
Table 6 – Iran - Mobile operators market share - 2016
Table 7 – MTN Irancell – Revenue and CAPEX – 2014 - 2016
Table 8 – MTN Irancell – Subscribers, ARPU and MOU – 2006 – 2015
Table 9 – Iraq - Mobile operator market shares – 2004 – 2015
Table 10 – Iraq - Asiacell financial data (including ARPU) – 2006 – Q2 2015
Table 11 – Iraq - Asiacell subscribers – 2006 - 2015
Table 12 – Zain Iraq financial data – 2006 – 2015
Table 13 – Zain Iraq mobile subscribers – 2006 – Q3 2016
Table 14 – Zain Iraq prepaid subscribers – 2009 - 2015
Table 15 – Iraq - Korek Telecom subscribers – 2013 - 2015
Table 16 – Israel - Mobile operators’ market share – 2010 - 2015
Table 17 – Israel - Cellcom – Consolidated revenue and operating profit – 2005 – Q2 2016
Table 18 – Israel - Cellcom – mobile subscribers and ARPU – 2005 – Q2 2016
Table 19 – Israel - Partner – revenue and operating profit – 2005 – Q2 2016
Table 20 – Israel - Partner – subscribers, MOU and ARPU – 2005 – Q2 2016
Table 21 – Israel - Pelephone – revenue and operating profit – 2003 – 2015
Table 22 – Israel - Pelephone – Subscribers and ARPU – 2005 - 2015
Table 23 – Israel - HOT Mobile – Subscribers and ARPU – 2010 – Q2 2016
Table 24 – Jordan - Mobile Termination Rates – 2010 - 2014
Table 25 – Jordan - Major mobile operators’ market share – 2004 – 2015
Table 26 – Zain Jordan financial data (including ARPU) – 2005 – 2015
Table 27 – Zain Jordan prepaid/postpaid mobile subscribers – 2005 - 2015
Table 28 – Orange Jordan – revenue, ARPU, and subscribers – 2006 - 2015
Table 29 – Jordan - Umniah – subscribers – 2008 - 2015
Table 30 – Kuwait - Mobile operators’ market share – 2005 - 2015
Table 31 – Kuwait - Mobile operators, subscribers and annual change – 2015
Table 32 – Kuwait - Zain Group subscribers, revenue and profit – 2002 – 1H 2016
Table 33 – Zain Kuwait revenue, income, ARPU and subscribers – 2005 - 2015
Table 34 – Ooredoo Kuwait financial data – 2009 - 2015
Table 35 – Ooredoo Kuwait prepaid, postpaid, and mobile broadband subscribers – 2007 - 2014
Table 26 - Kuwait - Viva revenue, net profit, EBITDA, and subscribers – 2009 - 2016
Table 36 – Lebanon - Mobile operators’ market share – 2004 – 1H 2015
Table 37 – Lebanon - Touch prepaid and postpaid subscribers – 2005 - 2015
Table 38 – Lebanon - Alfa – subscribers – 2009 - 2015
Table 39 – Omantel Group revenue by segment – Q1 2015 – Q2 2016
Table 41 – Ooredoo Oman – total subscribers
Table 42 – Qatar - Mobile operators’ market share – 2009 - 2015
Table 43 – Ooredoo Qatar – blended ARPU - 2009 - 2015
Table 44 – Ooredoo Qatar subscribers – 2007 - 2015
Table 45 – Vodafone Qatar – financial data – 2009 - 2016
Table 46 –Vodafone Qatar – subscribers and ARPU – 2009 - 2016
Table 47 –Saudi Arabia - STC revenue and profit – 2015; 2016
Table 48 – Saudi Arabia - Mobily revenue – 2006 – Q3 2016
Table 49 – Saudi Arabia - Zain KSA subscribers and revenue – 2008 - 2015
Table 50 – Saudi Arabia - Major mobile operators’ subscribers and market shares – 2005 - 2015
Table 51 – Syriatel – Revenue – 2008 - 2015
Table 52 – MTN Syria Revenue and CAPEX – 2009 - 2015
Table 53 – MTN Syria – Subscribers – 2009 - 2016
Table 54 – Turkey - Mobile operators and subscribers – 2015
Table 55 – Turkey - Mobile subscribers by operator – 2007 – Q1 2016
Table 56 – Turkey - Mobile operators’ market share – 2007 – Q1 2016
Table 57 – Turkcell group financial data – 2005 – Q3 2016
Table 58 – Turkcell Turkey average monthly blended ARPU – 2007 - 2015
Table 59 – Turkcell Turkey average monthly MOU and churn – 2001 – Q3 2015
Table 60 – Turkcell smartphone penetration – 2012 – 2014
Table 61 – Vodafone Turkey financial data – 2008 - 2016
Table 62 – Vodafone Turkey pre and postpaid ARPU – 2006 - 2014
Table 63 – Vodafone Turkey smartphone penetration – 2011 - 2015
Table 64 – Turk Telekom (Avea) revenue, EBITDA, and CAPEX – 2007 - 2015
Table 65 – Turk Telekom (Avea) prepaid, postpaid and blended ARPU and blended MOU – 2007 - 2015
Table 66 – UAE – mobile operators’ market share – 2010 - 2014
Table 67 – UAE - Etisalat mobile subscribers and ARPU – 2011 - 2015
Table 68 – UAE - du mobile revenue – 2009 – 2016
Table 69 – UAE - du mobile subscribers – 2010 – 2016
Table 70 – UAE - du mobile minutes of use (MOU) – 2010 - 2014
Table 71 – Yemen - MTN subscribers, ARPU, and market share – 2005 - 2014
Table 72 – Yemen - SabaFon subscribers – 2004 - 2015

Chart 1 - Middle East - mobile subscribers by country – 2014 - 2016
Chart 2 – Jordan - Mobile operators’ market share at a glance - 2015
Chart 3 – Kuwait - Mobile operators’ market share – 2009 - 2015
Exhibit 1 – Background information - Orascom Telecom Iraq Corporation/Iraqna
Exhibit 2 – Saudi Arabia - Historical – Bravo