The second national operator (SNO) in the United Arab Emirates, du, has launched mobile services, a year to the day after it was awarded its licence by the Telecommunications Regulatory Agency (TRA). The half million or so customers who had reserved numbers during the last two months are now able to pay for them via du’s website, and their SIM cards will be delivered to them by courier. As the couriers are only able to deliver a few thousand SIMs each day, the process is expected to take a number of weeks. The cellco is opening retail shops throughout the UAE on 25 February, and is also opening two ‘fulfilment centres’ in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in late February or early March, where pre-booked subscribers may go to collect their SIM cards. CEO Osman Sultan has warned of inevitable teething problems with the du infrastructure, which as yet does not interconnect with the incumbent Etisalat’s network, despite agreements between the two operators supposedly being reached. Perhaps in response to du’s delayed launch, Etisalat has announced that it is waiving registration fees for its multimedia messaging service (MMS) and Al Mersal answerphone service.
Meanwhile, the Gulf News on Saturday carried a report that Etisalat is considering offering voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services, once its next-generation network (NGN) is in place. VoIP is presently banned in the UAE, and the TRA have said that only Etisalat and du would be permitted to offer the technology if it was legalised. The ban has become a cause celebre amongst expats in the UAE who want an affordable means of contacting families back home, and many commentators believe the ban is unsustainable in the long run.