Now that the dust has settled over the BlackBerry update controversy one can hope to be able to write an article about etisalat without that spilling over.

When thinking of great companies and institutions in the UAE with global reputations, the following come to mind:

" The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), a source of envy for others and pride for the Emirates;

" Emirates airlines, the largest contributor to the international recognition of Dubai as a word and a destination;

" and etisalat, the telecommunications provider that has expanded operations beyond the UAE spanning Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, Tanzania, West Africa, Indonesia and Afghanistan.

Though its performance has been incredibly impressive and the wisdom behind setting it up is even more commendable, ADIA is a product of oil proceeds. Similarly, Emirates airline is a fantastic entrepreneurial enterprise, but it has benefited from its close affiliation with the airport as well as government support - a major cost for airlines is airport-related fees and jet fuel. This is not to say that etisalat has not been a product of - or at least a recipient of - oil revenues, but etisalat didn't have to continue to expand and develop the way it did. This is so because for the longest time etisalat was a monopoly and it could have remained, like many other regional telecom providers, a lazy, local provider. Today, etisalat is one of the premier telecommunications companies in the world and is well on its way to achieving its goal of becoming a top-10 provider in the world. It has been a regional pioneer in introducing new technologies and in many areas around the world its coverage rivals that of the local carriers.

Where etisalat fell short was never in quality but rather in price and - to a certain extent - customer service competiveness. Many feel that while etisalat invested heavily in infrastructure, it simultaneously took its clients for granted - after all, if you didn't like etisalat who else could you turn to? Its home market fortified, etisalat entered Pakistan, a relatively under-serviced market, in 2001. In 2004 and 2006, it won bids for operator's licences in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It is there that etisalat first began to deal with competition and it has fared well. But a corporation's culture rarely changes until its headquarters taste competition and that didn't happen until du began providing services in the UAE in February 2007.

You could see that etisalat felt the need to re-establish itself - this was characterised best by its massively successful rebranding in 2006. Once du was in operation, various offers flowed from etisalat - it had shifted gears.

In many ways, etisalat is similar to Microsoft. The latter has been the leader of the operating system business for over 20 years now. But over the years it became an arrogant monopoly that spends more of its money settling antitrust lawsuits than actually developing innovative software. The pinnacle of this was the failed current operating system (OS), Vista. In fact it was so faulty that it was decided to bypass the customary service pack ritual altogether and introduce a completely new OS: Windows 7.

In many ways, what du did to etisalat is very similar to what Google has been doing to Microsoft. It started with the search engine, which Microsoft tried to rival but effectively failed. Then came gmail, which together with gmail chat and the revolutionary in-mail search engine, rendered Hotmail - and Yahoo - prehistoric. Google Docs, which allows you to access your documents online, was a direct attack on Microsoft Office. The most recent arrival, the Google Chrome web browser, aims to finish off what Firefox did to Internet Explorer. And finally, Google is launching its own operating system which - judging from its previous successes - will be a contender to say the least.

The difference is that Microsoft lost the goodwill of the public a long time ago. In a country in which individual emirates command stronger corporate identities than the federation, etisalat is considered a national success story gone global as well as one of the major contributors to social development in the UAE. In many ways, nationals as well as long-term residents grew up with etisalat and watched it grow with them. People fondly remember the branded phones - anees, tanaf, tawash and hudhud.

Etisalat continues to be fondly remembered and - thanks to the arrival of du - its services have improved and its renewed competitiveness has ensured its future prospects.

Mishaal Al Gergawi is an Emirati commentator on socio-economic and cultural affairs in the UAE.

Your comments

Etisalat is an expensive service provider. Yet, their "Service" is not at all comparable to international standards.
Posted: August 30, 2009, 16:45

I think both Etisalat and Du services are not up to the standards as well if you think about it. they also split the regions (ie Marina is covered by Etisalat , JLT covered by DU) at the end the customer does not have any choice.
Christian Akiki
Posted: August 30, 2009, 16:45

Surely Al Gergawi must be talking about some other company called Etisalat, somewhere else. The Etisalat I have experienced is one of the poorest tele providers I have ever experienced, and their customer service is appalling. They recently cancelled my email account (for which I had been paying -- on time-- for over 10 years)and made my broadband inaccessible, and it took two months and countless complaints for them to sort it out.
Posted: August 30, 2009, 16:16

Yes, Many people don't look at Etisalat achievements but only look at negative things happen. What I really knew about Etisalat is that before du, it was giving excellent service to customers even the cost was so high for Etisalat. Good example is covering new areas with wireless telephone
Posted: August 30, 2009, 16:13

I have my wasel renewal next month but i have already made up my mind.I am definitely switching to DU..
Posted: August 30, 2009, 15:06

If the service provided by etisalat is one of the best,then i wonder how the worse is! I made an application for internet services since last December, and up to now i didn't get one..and don't even think of calling 101..i called them maybe some 20 times, and noboby seems to know what is happening to my application..they just asked me to visit the etisalat branch..then what is the 101 service for???
Abu Dhabi,UAE
Posted: August 30, 2009, 15:04

Du is far better than Etisalat's service and rates applied. Except for the coverage prob at times. But Authorities should take efforts to bring the rates a bit down.
Lily Guna
Posted: August 30, 2009, 14:22

Etisalat customer service requires a complete change over.
Subash Shanbhogue
Posted: August 30, 2009, 14:11

There is no perfect competetion in the UAE telecom market. call rates are higher in the country for internationl as well as for local calls.We may say du is quite better in its rates and packages than etisalat but isnt good enough.
Posted: August 30, 2009, 14:05

I must say that i do not agree with this comment at all. Windows Vista was and is not a failure. It has sold millions and millions of copies and is far faster and more stable than XP (I am currently typing from a windows vista laptop). Windows 7 only improves what Windows Vista started further. Microsoft was voted the number 1 companies in the UK recently. Etisalat's customer service is not good to say the least with pricing packages that are far too high for what they offer compared to other countries. We should be running internet connections that hit speeds of at least 20mb/s by now. The UK can do it, europe can do it, America can do it.
Abu Dhabi,UAE
Posted: August 30, 2009, 13:55

Wayyyy too expensive and extremely poor customer support.
From A Reader
Posted: August 30, 2009, 13:08

I fully agree with the users who migrated to Du from Etisalat. In any business, Customer is the King. I believe Du has understood this and thats why it is taking on rival despite the rival is a strong hold in UAE mobile telephony market. Unless the business is customer friendly, no matter how strong it is, it will face troubled times sooner or later.
Posted: August 30, 2009, 12:55

I was one of those who switched. In fact.
Posted: August 30, 2009, 12:38

The most simplistic view of companies - Etisalat has a major customer service problem in more ways than one. If they bothered to see the editorials out there, including blogs and twitters they would see ALL the mistakes they make. If they got off their high horse and offered a proper service at a decent price, you might win back customers. Today - Du has my vote as the better of whats available. I think TRA should open the market to more ISPs and teach both Telecoms the meaning of the word "service".
Mita Srinivasan
Posted: August 30, 2009, 11:45

This article talks about Microsoft a lot more than Etisalat, plus all the examples given on Google defeating Mircosoft shows that Du is the one defeating Etisalat. I don't get this. Du is definitely providing better service, faster installation time, better customer support, and better offers. Etisalat is like a dinasour.
Posted: August 30, 2009, 11:37

I agree with A. J. dubai. bad service.
Posted: August 30, 2009, 11:34

Still, Etisalat is the most expensive telecom service provider?
Rinesh Andrews
Posted: August 30, 2009, 10:43

Is this article about bashing Microsoft, or is it about Etisalat growth and success?
Posted: August 30, 2009, 10:13

I think the only edge of Etisalat over du is more and better coverage of their network that is grown with the time they have spent in market. Otherwise the offers/promotions and packages offered by du are way better and attractive than Etisalat. That's the reason we find users migrating and I am one of those.
Posted: August 30, 2009, 10:09

Here Etisalat was only the monopoly, so they were just making money, as compared to other countries. Just squeezing the customers. Its my opinion.
Shibu George
Posted: August 30, 2009, 10:00

Etisalat is quick to take your money, but very slow to give it back when they make mistakes!! and several of them. Customer service is very poor and its no where near international standards. If Etisalat wants to expand into Europe and other first world countries, then they need to really clean up their act. If only Etisalat could provide top customer service like Vodafone and Optus in Australia, or AT
A. J.
Posted: August 30, 2009, 09:55

I do not think it has had as much effect as it should have. The TRA is asking them not to compete on price, which if i may add is where competition is really needed. The prices we pay for internet and long distance calls are among the highest in the world and this is not what the country needs. This is especially true in case of services to businesses.
Posted: August 30, 2009, 09:45

In my experience Etisalat customer service has been at best useless, with high prices. The only thing that stops me from transferring to du is that everyone I know who has done so has had to come back to Etisalat as du are even worse.
Abu Dhabi,UAE
Posted: August 30, 2009, 08:47

Etisalat and DU are still their own monopolies. Competition is only in mobile phones. What about Internet, telephone?
Posted: August 30, 2009, 08:14

Are you kidding me??? Myself and countless others have switched to DU because of the lack of customer service by Etisalat. It's a disgrace and the management should focus on customer retention seeing as the market is almost 100% saturated. I believe the UAE has the highest penetration rate globally, so no room for expansion. But do they care about customer service. Not a bit! And that is why DU is the success story here, not Etisalat.
Posted: August 30, 2009, 07:35