MVNO launching in Saudi Arabia Virgin-backed
Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa (VMMEA) is now operating an MVNO service in Saudi Arabia.
The services will come under two brands targeting different demographics – the youth market (Virgin Mobile) and the expatriate community (Friendi Mobile).
VMMEA is providing the services over market leader STC’s network. Having issued licences in June, Saudi telecom authorities are encouraging each of the three major Saudi operators – STC, Mobily and Zain – to form separate agreements with MVNO providers.
To this end, second-placed operator Mobily has partnered with MVNO Jawraa Lebara. An attempt by Dubai-based retailer Axiom Telecom to form an agreement with Zain was stymied by the regulator’s decision to retender its MVNO licence – a process which is ongoing.
Nonetheless, rivals VMMEA and Jawraa have both experienced delays to their launches due to issues involving state security concerns and interconnection deals.
Saudi Arabia follows Oman as only the second Gulf nation to license MVNOs. The introduction of new players is the first significant shake-up of the market’s competitive landscape since Zain entered as a third player in 2008.
While VMMEA is a newcomer to the Saudi market, it operates 2 other MVNOs in the Middle East (in Jordan and Oman), one in South Africa, and one in Malaysia. The Virgin-backed group was first formed in 2006, and aims to launch and operate 10 MVNOs across Africa, the Middle East and Asia in the next five years.