Karim Benkirane, Chief Commercial Officer at the Dubai-headquartered telco du
“Whatever could be added as a digital service, we made that happen. There was no need to go to any location, get into queues, none of that. The idea will be to digitise as much as we can even going forward.” Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Sure, the iPhone 13s and Samsung’s pricier models come with 5G capabilities – but where are the brands and models that can offer the same but come priced under Dh1,000 for a handset?

Karim Benkirane, Chief Commercial Officer at the Dubai-headquartered telco du wants to see more of those handsets around for 5G subscriber numbers to shoot up in the UAE (and elsewhere). “Currently, the 5G network rollout is taking place more aggressively than the usage,” he said. “But when the market sees more mid-priced and lower-end handsets, that’s when the numbers start rising - immediately.”

Currently, some of the handsets that do provide quite a deep 5G experience would come to Dh2,000 and more. In du’s latest financials, mobile handset sales and DATA PLANS showed some good numbers, with Benkirane confirming many of the devices sold were 5G-enabled.

As of now, the du 5G network is accessible to 90 per cent of the population. Last week, du confirmed that it now has the “fastest 5G network” in the country. “That’s also a demonstration of our network’s population coverage, with 97 per cent of Dubai covered and 96 per cent in Abu Dhabi. There’s definitely high appetite for more 5G.”

Fibre spread

Simultaneously, du is getting together its fibre-based capabilities to create more future-ready infrastructure. “Rolling out more fibre is one way to gain more market share,” Benkirane said. “We had limited direct fibre networks of our own in the past, and we will are working expanding our zones. Yes, it takes time to put these networks in place – but the results will be worth the effort.” (For those areas where du doesn’t have fibre, du will rely on its relatively new home-wireless solutions.)

Eye on market share

Its latest financials, released early on Tuesday, show that du has turned around its mobile business, which reported a move into positive after three straight quarterly declines. Handset sales doubled, especially of higher margin ones. Revenues too were on the march.

“In the third quarter, there were a few drivers leading the growth, and we had a good September when post-paid subscriptions made solid gains,” the official said. “Much of this had to do with the return to Dubai trends we were seeing at the time. Plus of course, the sentiment of going back to normal.

"Within our existing (pre-paid) subscriber base, we brought in new plans to raise the customer experience. What we could offer is a digital layer to every customer interaction that was earlier done at our physical locations."

Breaking down du’s numbers
Mobile customer base has touched 6.5 million. The post-paid category was “resilient” during the third quarter with net-additions of 13,000 subscribers. The post-paid customer base grew to 1.3 million. The pre-paid base declined to 5.2 million subscribers “due to a combination of summer seasonality and flight restrictions brought by the COVID-19 Delta variant.

• With an eye on the Expo, du offered tourist arrivals and Dubai International Airport free pre-paid SIM cards packed with a fair bit of data as well.

• In fixed services, there were net-additions of 52,000 subscribers in the third quarter. That took the tally of broadband customers to 331,000.

• The du 5G network covers 90 per cent of the population, while “independent tests confirmed our network was the fastest during the (third) quarter.”