Dubai as a city and UAE as a country has highest mobile phone density in the entire Middle East and one of the highest in the world.There are approx 10.5 million subscribers in a total population of nearly 9 million.
Only two mobile phone companies are allowed to rake in the moolah:Etisalat and Du. Etisalat has 73% of the market share while Du which launched its services in 2008 commands the rest.
While there are all sorts of mandatory ID cards like National ID,labour card etc. which an expat or a ‘local’ is obliged to carry at all times, a person’s true identity is his/her mobile number. Without a mobile number a person simply does not exist as he will not be able to receive any documents, atm/debit cards,cheque books,bank statements etc.
This is because the mail delivery guy will not deliver any mail until he has spoken to you on the mobile and confirmed your location. This is critical as for majority of the people there are no permanent or very long-term residences or work places.
Everything in Dubai revolves around a mobile phone number. From traffic fine notifications to salary deposit alert to personalized massage offer to sms about your child’s performance in school.
You may have just won a million dirham ( about 1.2 crore INR or 275,000 USD) or a Lexus car in a raffle but will remain quite ignorant about it if you changed the mobile number since the time you entered your name for the lucky draw. Money remittance, ordering food, booking movie tickets etc are all made easy if you have a mobile number.
Despite such heavy dependence on the mobile phone number the two phone companies Messrs Etisalat and Du choose to price themselves out of that most basic function which is telephony especially long distance variety.
A call to India during normal hours is charged at AED 3 per minute( around INR 40 pm), while a call from a Vodafone Mumbai is charged INR 9 per minute for a call to UAE. Instead of trying to boost the ARPU( average revenue per user) by offering reduced call and data connectivity charges, the two companies do precious little.
As on today the biggest operator is making a ‘special offer’ of 25 international minutes for only AED 20( INR 268 approx). These minutes have to be consumed in a single window between 10 pm to 6 am( 12.30 am-7.30 am IST).This and other such hilarious offers abound.
Smart Phones and tablets are catching on in UAE rapidly and people are making a speedy shift towards these devices in a big way .Very recently an Apple store opened its doors at Dubai Mall,the region’s iconic shopping symbol. However the incredibly high charge levied by the operators for data connectivity via mobile networks means that most people in UAE would rather stop at a petrol station and ask for directions rather than open the Google Map application on their phones.
It’s a small wonder then that some Nokia phones continue to sell like hot cakes in UAE as only they support cheap Voip telephony which enables expats to stay in touch with their family and friends back home at a fraction of the cost compared to the charges levied by the phone companies. A voip card purchased for AED 35(approx INR 475) gives the caller about 600 minutes of talk time.
Similarly Blackberry devices have become a big hit especially amongst the younger generation because a phone company offers unlimited access to ‘BBM’ , Facebook and Twitter applications for an affordable monthly charge of AED 49( approx USD 13.5).
Much more needs to be done by the phone operators before the users in UAE free themselves from the clutches of ‘missed call ‘ syndrome in which a mobile phone user simply rings the called number once and immediately disconnects and then waits for the called party to call back.