How long do we have to wait for competition in the UAE’s telco space?

Sometimes you have to wonder if anyone at Du, Etisalat or the TRA is listening when it comes to doing a deal on market liberalization (image source: http://www.healthyblackmen.org)

As the saying goes, everything comes to those who wait. If you’re waiting for competition in the UAE’s telco space you may have a couple more years of waiting. Reuters published a story today detailing how despite talks beginning in September 2009, Du and Etisalat have yet to agree terms for network sharing. The best bits from the Reuters piece are below.

The United Arab Emirates’ two telecom operators, Etisalat and du, remain at loggerheads over a deal to allow them to compete on fixed line services nearly four years after negotiations began.

Du and Etisalat already offer fixed-line, broadband and television packages in the UAE, but not in the same districts, with du confined to the newer areas of Dubai.

The two companies, which are both majority-owned by government institutions, started technology trials that would allow network sharing more than two years ago and an agreement was slated to be concluded by 2011-end.

But a report from the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) this week shows the companies cannot agree on the extent of so-called bitstream access, which would enable one operator to permit the other to use its fixed network, or a method to determine the fees for allowing such access.

“The two licensees are still negotiating,” states the regulator’s report, which was published on its website.
“Bitstream access could have a significant impact on competition.”

The TRA states it will “impose a requirement to offer bitstream access products for both residential and business markets,” reiterating a commitment it made in a 2010 policy document.

Further liberalisation has proved fraught – mobile number portability, which would allow customers to retain their phone number when switching provider, has yet to be introduced despite the regulator previously stating this would be available by mid-2008.

Now, almost four years later ad yet we’re still nowhere near having any competition in the telecoms space in the UAE. The question is when is the UAE’s Telecoms Regulatory Authority going to step up and force the two telcos to agree a deal?

Across the region, we have some powerful regulators who have forced incumbent operators into making changes (Bahrain’s TRA is a great example of how a regulator should act on behalf of a country’s consumers). And yet, despite repeated promises from the TRA the UAE’s public is still waiting for a raft of measures that will liberalize the telecommunications sector, reduce costs and, hopefully, raise the quality of the country’s telecommunication services.

Just remember, if you’re waiting for the respective parties to agree and benefit from market liberalisation in the UAE’s telco sector it’s probably best not to hold your breath based on Du’s and Etisalat’s track record.

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