Mobile penetration levels in the region may fall once telecoms operators introduce hybrid billing later this year. Also known as convergent billing it combines postpaid and prepaid packages on to one account or sim number reducing the need for a ‘work’ and ‘home’ phone.  

This type of billing appeals to saturated markets as it will enable average return per user (ARPU) to rise

Christian Bartosch, Convergys

UAE operator Du is preparing to tender a hybrid billing system and may introduce the service by mid-December 2011. Etisalat is due to choose either China’s Huawei or Sweden’s Ericsson as a partner for its billing.

Qatar Telecom and Saudi Arabia’s STC have also shown an interest in introducing the system later this year.

“This type of billing appeals to saturated markets as it will enable average return per user (ARPU) to rise as a result,” says Christian Bartosch, sales director for the Middle East at US-based billing firm Convergys.

Markets in the GCC region where mobile penetration levels are nearing or exceeding the 200 per cent mark like the UAE will be targeted. “Operators believe it is a way for them to offset the decline in voice revenues,” adds Bartosch. 

“There are multiple levels of hybrid billing depending on what the operator chooses to offer its customers, they can be tailored to meet specific needs,” says Pankaj Garg, product manager at Huawei.

Hybrid accounts are likely to appeal to businesses that offer employees mobile phones for work purposes. With a hybrid system, charges can be made to the employee’s personal account after work hours.

While it has the potential to significantly reduce sim penetration levels and increase competition between the operators, it is unlikely to half it. “Operators see it as another service to attract customers and retain them, not a means to lose customers,” says Garg.