Exclusive Interviews

The team over at Virgin Mobile painted Dubai Design District red, spreading the love this Valentine's Day, and proving it is possible to fall in love with your telco.

Launching soon under the umbrella Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (EITC), Virgin Mobile promises a fair, simple and fully digital mobile service which puts the user in complete control.

Virgin Mobile is currently taking registration at www.virginmobile.ae with several thousand UAE residents applying to be part of their BETA team. Stay tuned for more information - you're going to love it! www.virginmobile.ae

Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company, the parent of the brand du which was launched ten years ago, announced the launch of Virgin Mobile in the UAE on January 31 in Dubai. EITC chief executive Osman Sultan stressed the fact that Virgin Mobile is not being launched as a new telecom operator in the UAE, but a new brand under EITC, aiming to cater to digital natives who live on their mobile phones. More details of the services that Virgin Mobile will offer in the UAE will come soon.

"It gives me great pleasure and great happiness to launch another brand by EITC, and that brand is Virgin Mobile," said Mr. Sultan at the press conference. "A new baby is born for EITC and we are privileged that we have the use of this brand. I think that everybody knows the Virgin Mobile brand and everybody knows we thrive for being customer-centric. We believe this makes perfect sense and it's a perfect match."

During the announcement, Mr. Sultan introduced Karim Benkirane, Managing Director of Virgin Mobile Middle East and Africa, who previously held the CEO position at Virgin Mobile KSA. Karim will be the "Managing Director of Virgin Mobile UAE in charge of operations working within EITC and reporting to me," said Mr. Sultan. He said in a few weeks more details about what services the Virgin Mobile brand will offer in the UAE will be released.

"I'm really proud to be part of EITC," said Mr. Benkirane. "I'm really proud to be part of this historic moment in this country. Virgin Mobile is a global brand and it's a consumer mobile brand. We have great experience in so many countries and we are trying to bring this experience and our expertise to the UAE market. We want to bring a differentiated experience, one that truly embraces digitalization."

"Digital transformation is our main focus and we believe that the digital revolution has changed completely our needs, so there is a niche market of people who live their lives on mobile, and Virgin would like to make their lives much easier and also make sure that we can make mobile better," Mr. Benkirane added.

EITC has full ownership, management, and operation of Virgin Mobile in the UAE, said Mr. Sultan. "Let me be very clear: This is not a third operator," he explained. "This is not a new license. This is not an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator). EITC is introducing another brand - Virgin Mobile - after having acquired the rights to use the Virgin brand in the United Arab Emirates."

Sultan stressed the importance of understanding that the new brand doesn't represent a new telecom operator. No entity other than ETIC has any stake in the operations of the new brand. Just like du, Virgin Mobile will use the network and other infrastructure of EITC. It has the right to use the brand in the UAE.

All customer contracts, like du customers, will be in the name of EITC, the license operator, which eleven years ago, signed a contract with the TRA (Telecommunications Regulatory Authority). EITC became a telecom operator in the UAE before the du brand existed. All regulatory obligations within the framework will be under the responsibility of EITC.

"Within EITC, we created a separate business unit," said Sultan, explaining the origins of Virgin Mobile as part of EITC. "This unit will do all of the marketing and interfacing, sales, customer care, product development, looking at customer experience, etc."

"In 2017, we are now in a world that is fast-changing, and I don't think I need a lot of words to convince you that this change is really radical," said Mr. Sultan, discussing the varying needs of digital natives today. "There is nothing that we do in our daily lives that is not being transformed by this digital universe," he said, adding that there is a need for customers to have services converged more smoothly - interconnected and converged services. Therefore, Virgin Mobile could be the answer for this.

Sultan said he has been observing the world we live in today, which ultimately led him to launch a new brand in the UAE similar to how EITC- a licensed operator - launched du ten years ago. "Launching another brand alongside du will cater to the needs of a segment and will be appealing to a large segment of the market and will fit totally with the DNA of EITC," he said.

"Almost ten years ago, EITC launched telecom services through the du brand," said Sultan, reflecting on the success of du. "It is true that we were not the first in this country or this region as a telco. But we have a solid history of firsts, certainly in this region and probably at a global level."

EITC was one of the first operators to offer Full Triple Play, and was one of the first operators globally to have used a full optical fiber network to go to homes or to businesses. Using fiber was a bet, but it was the right bet, said Sultan.

EITC was also the first operator in the region to offer Pay by the Second, and was the first to launch a multiple benefit recharge card. "Because we are dedicated to the UAE market, as a telecom operator, we were also the first to launch an Emirati plan dedicated to the specific needs of Emiratis," said Sultan.

"We look at our customers and we are driven by their needs, by what they like, what they want," he said. "We were the first to start payment on mobile, which indicated the way we were seeing how these instruments we carry will become transformative in our lives, and that you can do much more than just receive calls or send messages. We are an integral part of the social and economic fabric of the country."

"We were one of the first in the world to roll our Fiber to the Home (FTTH) - this is now mainstream for all telcos," Mr. Sultan continued. "On the other side of the spectrum, we were the first to deploy smart street lights in Dubai Silicon Oasis recently. Also, we are very proud to be the partner of the Dubai Smart Office, and proud that we launched WiFi UAE all across the nation. We are proud to be an enabler of this journey."

For more information on EITC's new brand 'Virgin Mobile', visit: www.virginmobile.ae

Established in 2014 in Saudi Arabia, Virgin Mobile turns out to be successful in targeting the largest mobile market in the Middle East and especially the youth. In an interview with Telecom Review, Virgin Mobile’s CEO, Fouad Halawi, talked about the company’s achievement so far, the hosting of MVNO that boosted competition and its  close relationship with the young consumer.

hy was Virgin launched in Saudi Arabia in 2014? For example, what gaps did you see in the market where you saw a brand like Virgin Mobile could flourish?
Several factors contributed to Virgin’s launch in Saudi Arabia, the most prominent of which include the CITC issuing of licenses for MVNO’s to operate in the Kingdom, allowing us to access a huge market that was previously unavailable to us. Secondly, Saudi Arabia is one of the largest markets in the Middle East, especially when one takes into consideration the telecom industry within the country itself. Operators have access to an extremely diverse population that can be tapped into on several touch points.

And finally, one of the major pulls for launching in KSA was the youth segment in the Kingdom which is by far the largest segment of all, representing around 50% of the total population. Given that no operator in KSA targets the youth specifically, we thought it was just perfect to do so given the size of this segment, especially given the fact that Virgin Mobile is a youth brand at heart, and our product offering is tailor made for the youth’s wants and needs.

How did the CITC’s decision in 2014 to make each of KSA’s three mobile operators host an MVNO to boost competition affect the industry in Saudi Arabia?
The KSA mobile market has seen extraordinary growth over the last 10 years. Today, there are around 48 million mobile subscriptions compared to around 25 million in 2006. That growth led directly to the government’s decision to allow MVNOs to enter the market which, in and of itself, has led to market disruption. MVNOs have shown the way forward for other operators – they’re more agile, nimbler and more willing to take risks. Their youth means that they have less to lose and that has allowed them to compete against their well-established and often better-funded competitors.

For Virgin Mobile, the challenge of taking on the incumbents has been accepted wholeheartedly, from the way it looks after its customers to the look and feel of the stores to the customer-specified bundles. All aspects of the brand and service have been designed to appeal to the large swathe of people not satisfied with what they were getting from their operators. Virgin Mobile has been able to tap into the need for change felt by many young consumers and with its less-cumbersome structures and processes; it has been able to meet those needs.

Have other factors, such as the drop in oil prices, affected Virgin Mobile Saudi Arabia’s performance?
Continued instability in oil prices and the impact of Vision 2030 both mean Virgin Mobile will need to remain as agile as ever in order to maintain its trajectory. We believe Virgin Mobile is well set for the challenges the next 12 months will bring.

Virgin Mobile Saudi Arabia passed a significant milestone this year: crossing the 2 million customer mark. What does this achievement mean in terms of the company’s growth?
Our philosophy has always been very straightforward: simple and fair propositions underpinned by a great customer experience. That has really resonated with Saudis – the Saudi youth in particular – and has been at the heart of our success since our launch just two years ago. Virgin Mobile’s success lies in an absolute focus on innovation, both in its plans and customer experience. With one of the youngest populations on the planet and the highest smartphone penetration in the world, we have been able to capitalize on the demand for data due to shifting customer preference.

As far as what this achievement means in terms of the company’s future growth, we see two major points:

Broader Customer Base: Our company growth has the advantage of exposing Virgin Mobile to a wider audience. Customers, like employees, are important in operating a successful company. Our growth will place Virgin Mobile in the forefront of many customers’ minds.

New Personnel: One clear advantage our businesses growth is the opportunity to staff the company with new, qualified Saudi youth. Since our people are our most important and valuable assets, acquiring new and talented personnel is a clear-cut advantage for Virgin Mobile. These people will bring fresh ideas to the organization and bring a sense of camaraderie to the organization.

Where are you seeing growth spots in Virgin Mobile Saudi Arabia’s customer range, and in what areas is the company innovating?
Virgin mobile Saudi Arabia is focusing on two main areas; first is improving the customer journey through major partnerships, the most recent one is partnering with Genesys in order to elevate the customer journey experience through a digital engagement center. This center will address issues and queries in a speedy and “informed” matter. Virgin believes it will increase efficiency and mostly increase customer satisfaction. The second area is youth engagement, through many initiatives and sponsorship of youth activities across the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia has a large youth population. How does Virgin Mobile Saudi Arabia appeal to the youth?
Virgin Mobile’s success has been to break out of its original demographic heartland into a broader customer base. It no longer counts just the Saudi youth as it customers and a typical Virgin Mobile user is as likely to be in their 40s as 20s. What does mark out all Virgin Mobile customers is that they want to be – and be seen as – different. And Virgin Mobile has given them a natural home to express their differences; whether that’s the bundle they choose for themselves or the way in which they interact with the company.

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