Vodafone Qatar will launch its 4G services for customers next week on June 3 – several months later than planned and some eight months after rival Ooredoo began offering the service to its local smartphone customers.
Company executives made the announcement at a press conference Monday to release its latest annual financial figures, which show the firm continues to grow its revenue and market share while operating at a reduced loss.
Vodafone has gradually eroded Ooredoo’s lead in the local mobile sector since breaking its domestic monopoly and launching in Qatar nearly five years ago.
On Monday, the company said that slightly more than one-third of all mobile users in Qatar are now Vodafone customers, up from 17.8 percent in March 2010.
Vodafone has previously said it wants to reach 40 percent penetration by 2018.
The growth comes at the expense of Ooredoo, which has seen its mobile market share shrink to roughly 67 percent.
On the financial side, Vodafone Qatar’s year-over-year revenues increased nearly 30 percent to QR1.98 billion (US$544.39 million).
By comparison, Ooredoo’s full-revenues in Qatar were more than three times that, up 6 percent to QR6.59 billion ($1.81 billion) in its most recent fiscal year.
One factor for both companies’ increased revenues here is Qatar’s swelling population, which has spurred greater demand for mobile services.
Additionally, Vodafone said its financial results were aided by the growing percentage of its customers on postpaid plans that bring the company more money than prepaid users.
Vodafone Qatar is still running in the red. The company lost QR246 million ($67.58 million) in its most recent fiscal year, an improvement on its QR401 million ($110.14 million) loss a year earlier.
That brings its total losses since launching to QR2.41 billion ($661.14 million), although the consistent improvements to the firm’s bottom line prompted its board of directors to recommend paying out a dividend – the company’s first – of 17 dirhams.
“I’m delighted to announce, finally, that Vodafone has an opportunity to share its success with its shareholders,” CEO Kyle Whitehill told reporters.
Vodafone declined to give any details about its 4G roll-out, including whether existing mobile data customers would have to pay a premium for the service, ahead of a scheduled press conference on June 2.
Ooredoo announced it was offering the service for “free” in February, but local telecom regulator ICTQatar forced the firm to retract its wording later in the month. It ruled such terminology was misleading because customers must still purchase a data plan to access Ooredoo’s network.
Faster speeds can encourage mobile users to consume more data as loading websites and streaming media becomes easier. For some, that means higher bills.
Whitehill said Vodafone plans to mitigate the hit to customers by introducing lower per-unit data charges:
“Where you will see rates improve will be that data bundles, in particular, will become more and more attractive for customers. And customers are consuming a lot more data, so the value comes from the increase in the bundles which are being offered in the marketplace which effectively reduces the price per megabyte.”
However, the lack of specifics leaves open the possibility that consumers who wish to use more data would be required to buy larger bundles and face larger bills than what they’re currently paying per month.
Whitehill sidestepped a question on potential changes to voice calling rates, saying only that the company has “lots of plans to introduce new propositions to the marketplace” and that “customers will benefit from more and more exciting tariffs.”
Last fall, a UN report found that Qatar residents paid the highest cost for telecom services, such as Internet and phone, in the Gulf.
Whitehill previously responded to the report by calling the cost of mobile services in Qatar “extremely competitive” and speculated that the UN’s conclusions were driven by the costs of services not offered by Vodafone.