Boxing clever

Umniah continues to punch above its weight against its bigger rivals
Ihab Hinnawi, CEO of Umniah.
Ihab Hinnawi, CEO of Umniah.

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Since its launch as Jordan’s third operator in 2005, Umniah has managed to carve a niche for itself in one of the region’s most demanding telecom markets.

The telco has always attempted to run a lean, efficient operation, allowing it to cater to a broad range of customers with differing spending habits. It’s a strategy that helped the company command a mobile market share of more than 30% in a country where the mobile penetration exceeds 120%.

And with the launch of its 3.75G network last month, Umniah, which is a division of Bahrain’s Batelco, plans to replicate its proven business model in the mobile broadband space.

Umniah’s competitors, Orange and Zain, launched their 3G networks in early 2010 and 2011 respectively. Ummiah acquired its 3G licence from the regulator in January for JD50 million ($70.4m), which was the same price as Orange and Zain paid.

Umniah then invested a sum of about $50 million in this first launch phase to deploy the network with vendors Huawei and ZTE. The network is extensive with more than 1,100 3.75G base stations out of about 1600 total stations that cover about 99% of Jordan’s population, including all of the main cities, towns and highways.

Umniah’s mobile broadband service is branded as ‘evo’, and is capable of downlink speeds of up 42.2Mbps. For Ihab Hinnawi, CEO, Umniah, one of the advantages of being the third operator to launch 3G was that it could move straight to the latest technology, and also enter the 3G arena at a point when the country’s population has become familiar with mobile broadband but penetration rates remain relatively low.

“Umniah has launched 3.75G commercially with a service that we have called ‘evo’, which stands for technological evolution,” Hinnawi says. “We are the first ones in the country to give mobile broadband a commercial name. The reaction in the market has been very positive.”

Service centric

In terms of the service, Umniah says that its offering was guided by three main principles: The market’s purchasing power; smart phone trends and the demand on affordable devices; and the availability of content and applications.

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“We’re focusing on some specific areas in our commercial offering; focusing on simplicity, affordability and on the customers’ needs and requirements. As Umniah we have decoded the customers’ needs in the local market. It is very simple – the network is very high speed across the whole country, it is plug and play when using the dongles, very simple experience for the customer. In seconds you are connected. For simplicity, we offer flexible packages adapted to what you want.

“Even when it comes to your mobile handset it is very simple and you can buy bundles per day, per month, per minute, and per site, whatever you like, which is where we truly innovated. This is how we believe Umniah will change the penetration rate of internet in the country in a very smart and affordable way for the customer.

Subscribers will be able to access the mobile broadband network via a dongle or smartphone, and there are various packages available to suit all types of customer.

“Umniah presents new flexible payment terms in minutes, days, weeks, or months. Evo customers can pay for specific web browsing options such as Facebook and Twitter,” Hinnawi says.

The telco is also targeting a large base of potential customers. It will encourage its own subscribers to upgrade to the 3.75G network and will also target customers of its competitors, as well as tourists and visitors who come to Jordan.

“The inspiration behind evo is the growing market trend and user patterns depending on internet to connect their personal and work lives. Supporting this trend is the expansion of smart phones penetrating the market to aggressively reach a higher percentage of users over a short period of time, 43% out of the total number of mobile users has smart phones,” Hinnawi says. “We believe that the subscribers that are using the handsets on the high speed internet will be high. At the moment we have more than 2.3 million subscribers. More than a million users who could have access to the high speed network through their handsets.”

But the potential to attract dongle users is also high, and Umniah estimates that it could attract more than 100,000 users in the first year.

Umniah expects to gain mobile broadband customers from its own customer base, and from its rivals, according to Hinnawi. “These customers will come from two areas – our own subscriber base that didn’t try the service before. We believe this will be a good chunk. The others will be winning back some customers who we might have lost during our absence from 3G in the past year or two. Definitely we will be attracting from the other network subscribers. It is very natural, if you offer the best value for money and you have the best network,” he says.

Making it pay

From a business perspective, mobile broadband can present a challenge to operators in that the revenue it generates often fails to offset declines from more traditional voice and SMS. However, Hinnawi is optimistic that Umniah, which has prided itself on value since its launch back in 2005, will generate a strong return from its 3.75G network because of its careful segmentation of the market.

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“Definitely 3G data revenue, generally speaking, does not offset the drop in traditional voice revenue that operators have been making,” Hinnawi says. “This is the area that makes operators lose sleep. But looking at Umniah’s model, we have from day one been a lean and efficient operator. Our place in the market has always been at an affordable level and we believe that the drop in revenues will not be as major for Umniah as for some other operators.

“The penetration rate of the internet and mobile internet in the country is still 50%, so if we can make it reach every subscriber in the country I believe we can offset that,” he adds.

Ongoing expansion

Despite Umniah’s 3.75G network already covering most of the population, the telco is already working on a second phase of deployment to expand the network further. “Phase 2 will cover the highly populated villages that weren’t covered by the first phase and will include the deployment of up to 200 base stations. It will be in the pipeline by the end of the year.”

This fits with Hinnawi’s view of projected growth in the data sector. “The telecom industry in Jordan, and since it started, has witnessed an aggressive growth with positive trends. Today the telecom industry is going through its normal life cycle, a stable trend regarding voice services’ revenues and an increase in the revenues of internet as a result of an increased demand on internet,” he says.

“The awareness on internet is increasing, which will continue leading to higher consumption especially that this is supported by the expansion of smart phones and special services such as the 3.75G.”

Kings of content

Umniah, which also commands a market share of about 33% in Jordan’s fixed-wireless sector with its WiMAX network, aims to complement its broadband investments by promoting the creation of local content. “To begin with, Umniah focused on an exclusive content offering and after conducting studies; we realised that the Jordanian market lacks specific and tailored content matching the needs of Jordanian users which is similar to regional and Arab requirements,” Hinnawi says. “Therefore, Umniah decided to fill in the gap through its services and products.

After much effort, Umniah partnered with different exclusive local and regional content developers, with an emphasis on the Arabic content, to offer a wide range of content in fields including sports, health, news, entertainment, education, games and more.

 


Tackling challenges

While Umniah sees significant opportunities in Jordan, Ihab Hinnawi admits that the market also presents its share of challenges, particularly in terms of regulation. “We believe the regulator should accelerate projects such as Mobile Number Portability. This is very much needed in the market and we believe this would support further liberalisation of the sector. We are pushing for that.”

He adds that energy prices in Jordan have also skyrocketed by 150%, specifically applied to the telco sector. “The other issue is that there are more taxes on the sector. We hope that the country is not supporting other sectors at the expense of the telecom sector,” Hinnawi says.
 

 

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