CAIRO: Starting this week, streets and television channels across the country will be flooded with banners and advertisements in bright red, as Vodafone Egypt finally launched its 3G Broadband services on Friday, on the heels of Etisalat into the third generation (3G) arena.
“3G Broadband takes mobile services to a very high level of speed and quality.. 3G Broadband means that you can do a lot more work at much less time, said Ian Gray, Vodafone Egypt’s CEO and managing director. “This is like your old fixed telephone line moving to DSL, your mobile moving to 3G Broadband.
With 3G Broadband access, Vodafone Egypt now offers its subscribers audio and video calling, high-speed Internet mobile access, mobile TV, as well as capacity to download complete music and video tracks.
“Customers with 3G compatible phones will automatically have full access to our 3G services without having to change or acquire new contracts, said Omar El-Sheikh, corporate affairs director at Vodafone.
The deal, worth LE3.34 billion, grants Vodafone a 15-year license from the National Telecom Regulatory Authority (NTRA), which reportedly stipulated that Vodafone give it 2.4 percent of its 3G revenues.
By contrast, Etisalat won the bid for the third mobile network license for LE 16.7 billion, with an undertaking to hand over six percent of its annual revenues to the NTRA. MobiNil still operates on 2G and 2.5G networks.
Amid the anticipated fierce competition from Etisalat, Vodafone seems to offer its new services at highly competitive prices. Video telephony costs LE0.75 per minute, mobile TV LE0.50 per minute, Internet browsing LE1.00 per day for a maximum of five megabits charging LE5.00 for each extra megabit. Download of tracks charges LE4.5 per song, but again differs depending on length of songs. Prices are unified for both prepaid and postpaid services.
Vodafone will also present a portfolio of free and promotional offers at the launch of the service, in a bid to attract more consumers and augment demand of its 3G services. During the first two months following the launch, Vodafone will give its 3G users 20 minutes of free-of-charge video calling each month. 3G users can also download one song per month at no extra charge.
“Most of the prices that we are launching with are long-term tariffs. The only one launched on a promotional basis is the mobile TV. We don’t know how often customers will use it. But we want to encourage them, Gray explained.
Indeed, Vodafone Egypt boasts that it offers the richest portfolio of mobile TV channels. Starting day one, users have full access to the whole ART network channels, Melody Aflam, Al Jazeera, Mazzika, Rotana, Fox, and El-Qahera El-Youm. Again during the first two months, Vodafone offers its mobile TV users free five hours per month for the ART package and ten minutes per month for the rest of the channels.
Furthermore, the Vodafone music package allows users to download clips from a wide range of channels including Sony, Melody Hits, Universal, Warner Brothers Music, EMI, and Alam El-Fan.
To top it off, Vodafone Egypt did not settle at offering 3G Broadband services to mobile users only. It also announced the launch of its broadband connectivity for computer users. Manufactured exclusively for Vodafone, the USB Modem is almost as small and slim as a flash memory card. Costing between LE1-2,000, the modem offers computer users wireless Internet as well as Vodafone’s 3G package. “This is the most exciting business product that we are launching with our 3G services, Gray said.
Total investments pumped in developing infrastructure and building 3G networks have so far reached LE2.1 billion. “We currently have over 400 base stations working on 3G around the country. [Still], this is an ongoing process, and we continue to add around three or four new stations each day, stated Gray.
Vodafone’s 3G coverage occurs geographically on stages; and by the end of this year, most major cities will have been covered. Currently, coverage includes four cities: Cairo, which hosts 45-50 percent of subscribers, Alexandria, Sharm El-Sheikh, and Hurghada.
“These cities were chosen in agreement with the NTRA, El-Sheikh explained. “This is indeed a sound decision because most of the people who have 3G compatible phones reside in these cities. Besides, tourists coming to Egypt will visit at least one of these cities and therefore will be able to use the service.
However, even with basic 2G and 2.5G services struggling to catch on as poorer customers strive to pay rates ranging between LE0.30 and LE1.5 per minute, Vodafone sees potential for 3G services in Egypt. “Today, over 700,000 of our customers have 3G compatible phones, and they can use our services from day one. This means that ten percent of our traffic will immediately go to 3G services. This is way ahead than when we first started operating in Egypt Gray pointed out. Back then, he said, Vodafone had zero customers and now they hold almost 50 percent of the market share in Egypt.
“In almost every country where broadband services have been launched, products were immediately declared a great success. And we believe that our products are going to be a great success in Egypt, as well, Gray added.
Vodafone is also looking to reap other benefits from its 3G Broadband deployment. Gray clarified that the new technology with its new stations would give Vodafone additional capacity that would decrease traffic on its existing 2G and 2.5G networks, and thus optimize their use. Currently, Vodafone has built 3,000 base stations operating on 2 and 2.5G services around the country.
Ever since it started operations in Egypt, Vodafone has, to this day, spent LE 14 billion on overall improvements of infrastructure and services.
With Vodafone’s red and Etisalat’s green colors sparkling across the country, a whole range of customers are on alert wondering if MobiNil’s orange will flash anytime soon, announcing the launch of its 3G services.