Etisalat girds itself for du rivalry

Prepares for opening up of networks ordered by regulator

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Attention, Dubai residents and workers: Etisalat is coming for your business. The country's largest telecommunications operator has opened several booths in Dubai residential and free-zone areas in the first marketing salvo before the roll-out of its internet and television network-sharing agreement with the rival company du.

Etisalat has a monopoly on traditional telephones, internet service and cable television throughout most of the country, while du serves a small area of Dubai that includes newer neighbourhoods such as Dubai Marina and Media City. This month, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) said Etisalat and du were "technically ready" to share each other's internet and television networks, signalling the coming of full telecoms competition to the UAE.

"We're doing this in various areas in Dubai," said Khalifa al Shamsi, Etisalat's senior vice president of marketing. "The message is to tell people who have been [telling] us over the years that they want our service that it is finally coming and we'd like to get their input." Last week at a booth in Dubai Internet City Building Three, Etisalat representatives were signing people up to alert them as soon as Etisalat's services became available in the free zone.

The representatives were also offering a promotion, called "Switch On", that would change a du landline subscriber's international calling service over to Etisalat. "Later on, when we are operating in these areas, we'll be able to sign up customers for the complete services," Mr al Shamsi said. The operator has also placed adverts in newspapers announcing that it will soon be offering its internet and television services in Dubai locales such as The Ranches and Jumeirah Beach Residences.

"This is in reaction to the people's needs," Mr al Shamsi said. "You would have no idea how many calls we've gotten from people who are already our mobile customers but don't have fixed-line services." The awareness programme appears to be one-sided. A du spokeswoman said the operator had no plans to undertake any awareness promotions across the UAE. The new era of competition is likely to be a boon to du, which for regulatory and technical reasons has been able to offer only mobile and landline services outside Dubai.

Mr al Shamsi declined to provide a specific date for when Etisalat would be able to offer its television and internet services across the UAE.