(With reporting from Ankita Menon)
Qatar’s two telecom providers are duking it out today with announcements about new services for customers.
State-backed incumbent Ooredoo was the first to announce its plans this morning, via Twitter:
Just in! From today the 4G Key will PERMANENTLY BE FREE for all Shahry & Hala Packs, Mobile Internet/Broadband Pack users! #OoredooSmart 1/3
— Ooredoo Qatar (@OoredooQatar) February 2, 2014
Some four months after enabling fast 4G LTE internet on smartphones, the company is scrapping the monthly fee needed to subscribe to the service.
The aim is to sharply increase the number of people using 4G, from the 30,000 current subscribers to some 1 million customers, Ooredoo representatives said at a press conference this afternoon.
Speaking to Doha News, an official said:
“We have decided that the access to 4G should be for all the people of Qatar and without having to pay any extra charges. We believe this will improve the people’s lives and people have the right to benefit from those technologies without barriers and this is the main reason we decided to make it free.”
The decision means some customers will now get quicker data speeds for free by SMSing “4G” to 121 (Hala) or 114 (Shahry).
Just keep in mind that you must be subscribed to a data pack and have a 4G-enabled phone or an “approved device” to access the service (a list of compatible hardware can be found here).
Note also that access to faster internet may cause customers to go through their data allowances more quickly.
Although Vodafone Qatar said previously that it planned to roll out 4G services in the first three months of 2014, company officials are now saying the launch will happen in a “reasonably” short period of time, declining to offer specific dates.
Meanwhile, Vodafone has announced the introduction of four new “RED” packages for postpaid customers. The plans are dubbed M, L, XL and VIP, and priced at QR250, QR350, QR750 and QR1,000 a month, respectively.
All packages included unlimited local calls (to both Ooredoo and Vodafone subscribers) and varying internet data services and international calling minutes.
They will also offer services like valet parking at some of Qatar’s malls, special phone numbers (until April 30) and access to 600 airport lounges around the world.
Speaking to Doha News on Monday, marketing director Cindy Moussa said:
“We thought there was no other market that would appreciate a really affluent service experience like the Qatari market. It was never a big decision to bring RED here. …It was always we should bring it, but we should do it in a way that it gives exclusivity and privilege beyond what others have done.”
RED, which stands for “revolutionary, exclusive and different,” has already been rolled out in 19 other countries, including the UK, Egypt and Turkey.
In Qatar, the valet parking will be available at Landmark, Ezdan and the Gate malls, as well as the Pearl-Qatar and Katara Cultural Village for now. Customers who subscribe to plans worth QR350 and above (L, XL and VIP) would be able to use the service. Dedicated parking spots for those who want to keep their own keys are also expected to be available.
Vodafone’s promotional video for RED
VIP customers will have access to a new concierge service, which can help with last-minute restaurant reservations and special access to events. XL and VIP customers can also request home or office visits from the Vodafone team if they have questions or need to make payments.
There will also be a 30 percent discount given to family members added to the primary account, and the option of setting a “spend limit” on these members.
The announcements come at a time when Vodafone, which ended Ooredoo’s monopoly in 2009, is narrowing its financial losses and rapidly gaining subscribers.
The increased competition has some Qatar residents keen to reap the benefits.
— Halal Bilal (@halalcomedy) February 2, 2014