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Vodafone in Qatar is an example of what de-regulation has done to the telecom landscape in the region. The service provider, which built its operations from scratch two years ago, now boasts of 600,890 mobile customers (as of September this year), capturing 37% of population share and 19.5% of revenue market share in a year. Vodafone Qatar’s ARPU is increasing, and now has 100% geographic coverage of 2G and 98% population coverage of 3G and is in the process of expanding into the fixed world.

Vodafone Qatar has around 431 cell sites including 108 COWs (cell sites on wheels), 81 indoor sites and is currently in the process of upgrading its HSPA network to HSPA + for higher speeds.

Already a major mobile operator, Vodafone Qatar plans to offer customers an integrated service, encompassing fixed and mobile. To accomplish this project, the service provider has selected Alcatel-Lucent, together with partner companies, to deploy and entirely new fibre-to-the-home networks, based gigabit passive optical network (GPON) and point-to-point Gigabit Ethernet technology. Alcatel-Lucent’s IP multimedia subsystem solution will then be used to link the new infrastructure with Vodafone Qatar’s existing mobile network. This will allow services to be offered seamlessly through fixed and mobile connections without excessive cost or complexity. Users will receive uninterrupted service and synchronization of enabling applications such as virtual office and VOIP solutions, with unified billing and charging. In addition, the service provider is also planning to leverage Qatar National Broadband Network to deliver fixed services.

Vodafone Qatar, in partnership with Acaltel-Lucent, has also deployed 17 camouflaged radio base stations designed to blend into the urban environment. These camouflaged sites are located in Qatar’s main cities and help reduce visual pollution by better integrating radio base stations into the city’s skyline. These new base stations mimic the cities’ towering minarets, making them virtually undetectable and enhancing the overall look of the cities. This initiative is in line with the urban planning and development of the country and is fully supported by the telecom regulator and the government of Qatar.

Aclatel-Lucent is providing Vodafone Qatar with a full end-to-end turnkey solution including monopole tower, the camouflage solution, 2G and 3G equipment, microware equipment, civil works and set of services including design, dimensioning, site engineering, integration, installation and commissioning, and network operation.

To demonstrate its technology leadership, Vodafone Qatar has also performed the live demonstration of LTE on its network. This demo- said to be the first in Qatar- used the 800 MHz spectrum and demonstrated an increase in speed up to 6 times that enjoyed by customers on 3G today, narrowing the gap between fixed and mobile experience.

However, the service provider doesn’t have any plans to commercially deploy anytime soon. “We will trial the technology in 2011, and learn what it is. LTE is definitely an opportunity for us to provide faster broadband to customers. We will maximise 3G assets and LTE will come into our network in 2012,” says Jenny Howe.

Developing eco-sustainable network is another key area of focus for Vodafone Qatar. As part of its green technology programme, the service provider is setting up hybrid powered base stations in rural areas to harness solar and wind energy.

Howe says the focus for the next 6 months is on attracting high value customers by emphasizing service quality and relevance. “We have a job to do the retain the segments we are strong and acquire new segments. We have invested heavily in the backend infrastructure to provide service experience and we continue to invest in the network. We closely monitor CDI and NPS to gauge customer satisfaction.” The service provider is also eyeing the lucrative enterprise segment to fuel its growth and boost ARPU. Vodafone Qatar currently provides personalised services and dedicate account management for its business customers, in addition to a bouquet of other value-added services.

While operators in the region are now starting to focus on reducing operational costs, Howe says Vodafone’s network is designed to be cost effecting right from set up. “The whole of Europe is in the savings mode, and as a global telecom group we have many learnings and best practices that we have brought to this region,” she adds.

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