Customer numbers are increasing rapidly. In less than three years, the number of people in Egypt with a mobile phone has almost quadrupled, to more than 29 million at the end of 2007, from just 7.6 million in December 2004.

Operators have also reduced prices dramatically, epitomising the newly competitive nature of the Middle East telecoms sector.

But not all markets have reacted so swiftly, and there is a long way to go until the level of competition matches that in Asia and Europe.

For now, Jordan’s telecoms sector is the most advanced. Its regulator, the Telecommun-ications Regulatory Commission, is committed to licensing an unlimited number of virtual network operators selling branded mobile phone services but using an existing company’s network. Operators will have to wait six months before trying to win back any customers defecting to a virtual rival.

Other regulators are watching these developments closely and, if they prove successful, could follow with similar measures to encourage competition.

It is not just phone services that will be affected. Internet service providers will also find themselves under pressure as customers demand faster services.

It is the consumers who will be the winners. With greater choice, they will be able to pick the provider best suited to them.

Some existing operators will undoubtedly lose out, but it is not too late for them to improve their services and prices. If they do not, it should not come as a surprise if con-sumers take their custom elsewhere.