Saudi Arabian communications minister Muhammad Jameel Mulla has announced that the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) plans to issue three mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) licences in early-2012, whilst confirming that the regulator does not intend to open the market for a fourth player. ArabNews.com quotes the communications chief as saying: ‘Virtual communications services do not require any new network … We don’t have any plan to license a new company to provide cell phone service’.
Although rumours that the MCIT intended to endorse the entrance of MVNOs into the sector have circulated since 2009, Mulla’s announcement marks the first formal acknowledgment of the watchdog’s plan. TeleGeography notes that in January 2011, Zain KSA, Saudi Arabia’s third mobile operator, launched a new pre-paid mobile package in partnership with the Friendi Goup, a UAE-based company that had previously introduced MVNO services in Oman and Jordan – the latter also in association with Zain. At the time Mikkel Vinterd, CEO of the Friendi Group clarified: ‘This is a partnership outsourcing agreement rather than an MVNO. It is a package operated by Zain but branded Friendi. We will be working with Zain on certain aspects of the branding and distribution and services and so on, so it is a joint effort’. Vinter added that the package is designed to target international customers including foreigners who live in Saudi Arabia and nationals who have family or friends overseas, although roaming rates remained the same as those offered by Zain. As of mid-October 2011 Friendi claimed that it had achieved a customer base of around 700,000.