Qatar orders closure of Virgin Mobile service

ictQATAR has instructed Qtel to close all Qtel Virgin Mobile-branded services in Qatar, the country’s telecommunications regulatory authority said yesterday in a statement on its website.

In an order dated April 4, 2011, ictQatar has mandated Qtel, the state-owned incumbent telecom services provider in Qatar, to “cease and desist from selling Qtel-Virgin Mobile-branded services, including SIM and recharge cards.”

The decision follows a long investigation by the regulator into what it termed as “non-compliant launch of Qtel Virgin Mobile services in Qatar on May 13, 2010.”

The regulator’s statement added that Qtel was also required to transfer affected customers to similar services if the customer chooses or provide full refunds to customers.

The decision and orders also contain guidelines on advertising, marketing and branding of telecommunications products and services in Qatar. These guidelines apply to Qtel, Vodafone and all their distributors, dealers and agents, the Qatari telecom regulator said.

Vodafone Qatar, the second mobile service provider that was licensed in 2008 and began offering services in March next year, had challenged the legality of the Virgin Mobile services and raised the matter with ictQATAR.

Vodafone had said the Virgin Mobile was like a third operator and should, therefore, not be treated as a branded service of its well-entrenched rival Qtel and be subjected to the same licensing requirements as Vodafone.

“Qtel is also required to remove the Virgin Mobile brand from the marketplace,” the regulator has ordered. While Qtel immediately issued a statement later in the day yesterday saying it was transferring all Virgin Mobile customers to its pre-paid Hala service, the regulator has set August 4, 2011, as the deadline by which all Virgin Mobile branded SIM cards must be de-activated.

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