Rival Saudi cellcos launch region’s first LTE services

14 September 2011 | Guy Matthews


Saudi Arabian mobile network operators Saudi Telecom Company (STC) and Mobily, a subsidiary of UAE incumbent Etisalat, have launched LTE network services almost simultaneously, the first 4G offers for the Middle East region.

The two operators between them account for over 80% of the Saudi mobile services market, running the other licensee, Zain Saudi, a distant third.

Saudi mobile penetration runs at 188%, according to the ITU, the third highest rate in the world, meaning that the latest generation of LTE-based services are likely to become a major battleground. Pricing on existing 2G and 3G services has been eroded significantly in the years since Mobily’s launch signalled the end of STC’s monopoly.

LTE, said STC, will treble the download speeds offered by 3G, already a popular choice in a country with a consumer base hungry for high-speed mobile data services.

“LTE will enhance both the capacity and effectiveness of networks, allowing for internet speeds of up to 100Mbps for downloading data,” said STC CEO Jameel Al Molhem. “It also allows operators to provide fixed services on mobile networks, and convergence between fixed and mobile services. STC is continuing its pioneering role and its continuous quest to provide the latest services that are in line with international standards. We were the first to launch the third generation high-speed network in the region in 2006, and the first to upgrade our network to HSPA technology.”

Mobily said it leads the Saudi 3G market, serving around 75% of all subscribers and deriving about 20% of revenue from mobile data. STC’s LTE launch is clearly intended to disrupt this dominance.

Mobily’s 4G services were launched through subsidiary Bayanat al-Oula, initially serving a number of provincial Saudi cities, including Najran and Jazan in the south and Al Gurayat near the Jordanian border. It said a second phase will be launched shortly in the major cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Damamm.