DUBAI, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Qatar's telecoms regulator will introduce mobile number portability (MNP) by the end of January in a move likely to increase competition in a sector dominated by state-controlled Qatar Telecom (Qtel).
The regulator, ictQATAR, said on its website that MNP would give residents "the ability to more freely choose the best service provider to meet their needs", adding that this was an important part of the liberalisation of Qatar's telecoms market.
Qatar was the last of the six Gulf co-operation countries to open up its telecoms sector, with loss-making Vodafone Qatar ending Qtel's monopoly in 2009.
Since then, Vodafone Qatar - 49 percent owned by the Qatar Foundation, which was founded by the country's ruler - has steadily built up its customer base to 936,300 mobile subscribers at Sept. 30.
This is equivalent to 51 percent of the population, but its share of total mobile revenue is much lower at 25 percent for the six months to Sept. 30.
That is because many cost-conscious residents hold SIM cards for both operators and switch between the two, depending on what offers are available. Mobile penetration is about 167 percent, or 1.67 subscriptions per person.
Consequently, the launch of MNP may do little to help Vodafone win new lower-income customers, but it could enable it woo businesses and wealthier individuals who are reluctant to change their phone numbers, provided that the company can also meet their other communications needs.
"The business sector has changed," said Wasim Khan, Ernst & Young's telecoms leader for the Middle East and North Africa region. "Corporate customers are looking at an end-to-end solution, not just the telephone lines provided, but all the other IT and technology-related services."
Qtel and Vodafone Qatar were not immediately available for comment. (Editing by David Goodman)