We’re just over half way through 2013, but already it’s been a significant year for Qatar’s telecoms industry.

From Qtel’s rebrand to the introduction of mobile number portability and the launch of 4G services, there have been several milestones in the evolution of the country’s mobile and fixed sectors, particularly when set against the backdrop of Qatar being the last country in the GCC to open up to competition when, in 2009, Vodafone Qatar became the country’s second telecom operator.

Since then, Vodafone has rapidly gained a share of the mobile market (as of March this year it had 1,084,000 mobile customers) and the overall subscriber numbers in Qatar have swelled accordingly; there are now around 2.56 million active mobile subscribers in Qatar, which gives a penetration rate of around 140%, according to the latest figures released by the country’s regulator ICTQatar.

Despite the high mobile penetration, both telcos are optimistic that there remains plenty of room for growth. The number of people living in the country has been growing steadily; at the end of last year, there were around 1.8 million inhabitants and Global Investment House analyst Umar Faruqui estimates that subscriber growth will keep pace with an anticipated rise in population of around 3.7%, with the number of mobile subscribers in Qatar expected to hit 4.1m by 2022.

During the first quarter of the year, Ooredoo - the new name for Qtel, which was rebranded in March - saw revenue grow by 4.9% to QR1.6 billion ($439m) compared to QR1.5 billion during the same period last year. Its customer base grew to 2.7 million (2.23 million of which were mobile subscribers), compared to 2.4 million last year. Year-on-year, average revenue per user dropped for post-paid and prepaid users, from QR465 and QR99 respectively to QR407 and QR84.

“We believe that this market is still growing and developing,” says Ooredoo chief operating officer Waleed Al Sayed. “We’ve continued to roll out new and enhanced products and services and have seen strong take-up on the Ooredoo fibre optic broadband network and our 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile broadband network.”

Vodafone Qatar’s last set of results showed year-on-year revenue increase of 20%, while mobile ARPU increased by 8.4% year-on-year to QR121. The telco posted a loss of QR 25m for the nine months to 31 December 2012, up 56% compared to the same period last year.

Vodafone attributes its growth to two factors: rising subscriber numbers, which is due to an influx of foreign workers boosting its prepaid subs together with a nascent share of the post-paid market, which it entered a year ago. “That has been a significant driver of growth,” says Vodafone Qatar director of marketing Cindy Moussa. “They are high-end customers and are disproportionate in terms of revenue. The second factor, Moussa says, is an acceleration of data revenue, which she says has been a “significant” driver of growth.

Indeed, it is in the mobile market where most of Qatar’s future broadband growth will occur, according to analysts at BuddeComm, who say that “mobile broadband will be the main source of future subscriber growth in Qatar’s broadband market”. It estimates that, at best, there will be 99% penetration by 2020, with the worst case scenario providing for 83% penetration.

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