The original article has been removed – now updated   (Draft 5 – 30th June 2010 )

With number portability about to be unleashed upon the nation of Bahrain, I am busy doing a multi piece on Telecommunications Companies in all their glory – so  WAIT!!

Talking about putting the cat among the pigeons, being able to strap your favourite, long time held, number to any of the providers is going to really set off a typhoon of incentives one hopes.  Imagine, you have a great ‘3333xxxx’ number, which you don’t want to lose but you don’t happen to like the provider; then simply port your existing number to a competitive carrier.  Of course, there has to be a catch coming for sure, nothing in telecoms is done without it being a potential honey trap; like  if you want a ’33’ number for example but you are not a Viva subscriber, then we might have to pay big bucks to get one from the original provider – or –  will all providers be able to issue any string.  Hmmmmm!  Deep and meaningless written like that, so read on.

As for the ’33’ thing; this post was all about ‘start-up privilege which as of June 2010, still exists, but if number portability hits in any time soon, I am not sure this post will have much credence.  I am actually trying to find out how much Saudi Telecom in Bahrain paid for the ’33’ string if over and above their license fee.  The gross national product of a country like Canada I hear, but I cannot get anyone to cough up the juice.

Ok, if you are visiting this page from the beyond, you have absolutely no idea what I am talking about, so Bahrain readers bear with this a second:

There are 3 mobile telecom carriers in Bahrain. Having obtained the 3rd mobile license in 2009  Saudi Telecom came to Bahrain as VIVA, starting operations in the first quarter of 2010. Shock, horror, scenes of a Honk Kong bank going under at the Viva stands, Viva was awarded the mobile string ’33”. HOLY SMOKE!   Read on readers, because if you are not in Bahrain, you’ll soon see how a ’33’ string is better than finding an oil well in your back garden.  For Saudi Telecom to use the name Viva in Bahrain makes a whole lot of sense and it is what they did with their operation in Kuwait because it would be pretty dumb to call yourself ‘Saudi Telecom’ in another country wouldn’t it?  Imagine the subliminal alienation that would cause.  The other two carriers are: Bahrain Telecomunications (Batelco) and Zain, formerly MTC out of Kuwait. Ok got it?

So anyway, I removed the original blog because I received comments that I was biased against Saudi Telecom which is an absolute load of tosh.  Not at all! On the contrary, I envisaged great changes and many good things to come from what I thought was a severe case of  ‘donkeyism’ (see explantion in next post). Sure, I took out a subscription under the pretext that the Viva speed and lower cost would stun us all, only to return my subscription next day having discovered that there was no 3G coverage in either New Zinj or Amwaj. The other providers are pretty dead in these areas too, so don’t rush out the door yet. It was a mini war to rescind my Viva subscription and I am not sure even now where I stand, but I think I won and Viva eventually did the honourable thing and I am pleased with them. In fact,  Viva seem to have surprised more than a few and very obviously worried the crap out of Batelco when none of it was necessary.

It stands to reason though, having a mobile network access number which begins with ‘3′ by default  –  and the international dialing code of the country is……… um!  973 then by some miracle of ‘justified leg-up’ for the incoming competition the allocated network begins with ‘3′  then it is BONANZA time unlimited for that company.  Imagine +973 33333333?  Even the President of the US couldn’t possibly get better and that was the crux of the blog really.

Taking commercial initiative is entirely acceptable if the playing field is level and I suppose at its launch, Zain could have more than halved call rates, as they already had a substantial network within the region and more on the way, but that didn’t happen.  Besides, Batelco would have just followed instantly if they were allowed to.   Perhaps the burgeoning TRA (Bahrain Telecommunications Regulatory Authority) might have insisted that Zain initially keep similar rates. I doubt it, but who knows the politics?  If one follows the immense public rows the TRA are currently having with Batelco, it seems to the public that ONLY Batelco suffer the TRA wrath with the other two now swaddled in lovingness like protected babies and each time they cry, Batelco cop it.

As this post goes live, the TRA have once again rapped Batelco for simply improving their entry level Internet service, by doubling the speed for the same price.  Shockingly, Batelco had to instantly issue a statement and rescind (there’s that word again) the upgrade, much to the public’s disapproval.  Although, it happened so fast, that the average Jo Public wasn’t even aware that anything had happened in the first place and I have not read anything about it in the English Press, but I could have simply missed it. In fact, as of August 2010, Mina Telecom the Wimax 2 Internet provider has reduced the monthly charges by a little over 10% it seems and have upped the allowed bandwidth.  That and Wimax 2 capable phones about to hit Earth, potentially giving an Internet provider mobile telephone status, will the TRA stop them?  (In upcoming posts, I hope to look in to this in more detail)

When the second mobile provider Zain launched near 6 years ago, there was natural public interest that the national monopoly had been smashed, but  Zain had another advantage that being their allocated launch number string started with ‘6’, so we had ’36xxxxx’. (37 is on the cards). Zain failed to utilize or make a big noise about their rather cool number advantage over the existing Batelco strings. Why Zain never cashed in was obviously a case of incompetent marketing, which persists to this day, plus Zain Management decided to be nice to the incumbent Batelco and not rub it in or up the wrong way  – out of some polite Arab type hospitality I guess.  No one feels sorry when a forced monopoly loses it’s privilege and to be honest, I see no reason to ‘rub it in’ as such with petty advertising either;  but what Zain and Batelco did, made me cringe. I was sitting in the meetings with the launch team telling them to Get THREE SIXED and smash it all over the Island.   I even did a pitch demo to entice them, but no way!  Astonishingly, this ideology and phrase was considered ‘suggestive’ by those who cannot be mentioned and instead, Zain put out desperately crap, pathetically inane launch advertising, which Batelco matched literally word for word.  So much so, that on radio it was the same voices doing virtually the same scripts for each company.  That might have been something to do with the fact that personnel from one Agency left to set up another Agency to handle Zain because incredibly naively, Vodafone UK insisted that their Advertising Agency be used here.  There wasn’t a branch in existence until this little gold mine surfaced. I cannot go on… my shoulders are squeezing up to my ears and my teeth twang just thinking about the experience.

When eventually Viva hit town, their advertising was eagerly awaited, but turned out to be pretty much similarly inane with the usual ‘is it a bird’, ‘is it a plane’ clichéd, all done before – hotchpotch, using carefully selected urban faces in modern dress – er.. um…  holding the Viva flag.  The dress code was good thinking.  Using very Arab type faces, also deliberately structured and I guess psychologically sound as we don’t want to upset those who are paranoid about this imaginary culture loss which is all seemingly too prevalent en masse here. Let’s not mention the equality of the  ‘global village’ then.

Advertising Agencies can be as creative as hell in the Middle East but none of it will ever see the light of day, because everyone including the client is an ‘instant expert’ and that means cultural and religious values, so why hire ‘expensive’ real talent in the first place?  Knowing this and that any chance of getting something a little off the wall past the client is absolutely futile, the agencies just go along with whatever the client suggests, taking the money, hopping into their Hummers and Beemers and  sailing all the way to the bank.  As I mentioned before and many times at that; just like the Advertising Agencies,  most corporations do not hire creative/artistic people within their marketing departments either; in fact most give the industry no credence whatsoever and consider advertising a ‘no qualifications required’ job. (See the post about Gulf Air’s recent output).

At the moment, ONLY telecom companies are spending money on advertising as they fight each other.  Magazines and even the deadly crap radio are benefiting by default, but to be honest, none of it is remotely effective and the radio advertising is shockingly amateur and murderously crass anyway.

Oddly each telecom company is as pathetic as each other and something again all telecom companies do at launch is insist on hiding the fact that they are launching a service.  Weird huh!  Contacting the Advertising Agency or suppliers who got lucky with the pitch, you ask;  ‘So Viva are coming with “33” numbers’? – A look of utter dismay crosses the faces of these desperately happy campers who are slaves to the money, working their arses off to get all the stuff done in this magical impractical 3 weeks they have been given to produce an ad campaign and get the Call Centre sorted out; the latter of which should never be their responsibility in the first place as it is completely and utterly out of their depth. The dismayed faces eventually straighten and the reply comes. ‘Who is Viva?  We really cannot say anything about ’33’ and don’t really know what you are talking about’.  Hmmm!  Yeah, we just got off the last banana boat.

However, based on the Viva’s gift from God allocated number string, Viva did come up with a stunningly simple but ultra effective side campaign which completely over shadowed their main themes.  OF COURSE THEY DID – OF COURSE THEY SHOULD – OF COURSE THEY WOULD. You’d have to be pretty damn stupid not to with a number string like that, yet I got blamed for giving them the idea having discussed my rejected Zain ’36’ campaign with Viva Advertising Agency  colleagues. Maybe it did have some influence but come on!!!  What would you do if your number string began with ‘3’ in Bahrain? Nowhere else in the world accept Middle Eastern countries with their associated country codes and small populations can one ever get such a lucrative money maker.

My question was; how the hell did Viva get it?  You would have thought that Grandpa Bahrain Telecommunications and Zain, must have been weeing their pants when that baby surfaced, but to be brutally honest; within the two incumbents,  I mentioned it upstairs asking what they thought about the incredible advantage Viva would now have,  but it was like ‘zip’ … a small breeze straight over the top of their heads.  Nobody seemed concerned and I strongly believe that Batelco deserve much more as they are really a solid provider and with ‘technical’ quality at that; (Then came the Chinese Huawei. Oh dear!). Customer Service and Call Centre quality is another story, so let’s not go there! It has to be said that in general, Zain has an excellent Call Centre compared to the others and it is in-house, as is Batelco’s, but Viva outsources, so you might as well be talking to the moon. Customer Service on the other hand mustn’t be confused with Call Centre Agents or the respective IVRs (Interactive Voice Response Systems). We must commend Batelco’s Customer Service, but their Call Centre and IVR is way-way-way off target.  Of course, Batelco don’t only deal with mobile networks and if only you could get your precise message accurately conveyed from the Call Agents to physical ‘customer service’ down the line, then Batelco really is good.

The bottom line is; forget customer service, download speeds, SMS,  MMS,  3.5G, 4G and all the other Marketing crappy bits.  All telecom companies are the same, but in Bahrain and their neighbours, it all about whose got the biggest!  Not many  will rob your physical mobile phone, (someone nicked my Blackberry this week)  but they might kill you for what is considered a prestige number.  For many, the car hood is an extension of the middle wicket carrot along with the shaven heads,  which constitutes a new book for Freud. It’s all about the number and that is why we witnessed incredibly embarrassing scenes whereby for weeks,  Viva shops and stands had 2 kilometer queues waiting. Ridiculously sad  and pathetically ill-conceived and misjudged, Zain set up stands adjacent to as many Viva kiosks as they could get space for, all designed as a competitive alternative but not a soul was standing at the these Zain kiosks. Personally, I called my brothers in Zain and expressed my concerns for the subliminal damage this was doing, but like before, nobody is listening.  They are still totally deluded thinking that the world will eventually award them for creative ingeniousness with their ‘Butterflies better fly up your arse’ campaign which not a soul on this earth understands or deems relevant. Now they are giving candy floss away.  Something is definitely not right, but other than that, Zain is a good egg, good people, a solid company and remarkably honest in all but a few of their major pastures.

We in Bahrain have witnessed what must be million and millions of Dollars being spent on a completely ‘useless and incredibly childish ‘neh neh -neh – neh neh’ counter campaign with Batelco putting the country flag above the Viva flag and telling tales on them.  It was bizarre and still to this week, we see some of the billboards with it on.  This has to have been another Lebanese classic industry ploy and it worked so well as yet another money maker for them.  The media platforms and the agency made millions before someone in Parliament made equally inane statements about discrediting the Bahrain flag by advertising it. What a waste of money, money which could have been put to a million better uses and created such a positive psychology.

In truth, Viva approached us on two occasions to have their networks and Call Centres done, but didn’t like our price, nor the realistic lead time we insisted upon.  So they went away and had the ludicrously cheaper alternative do it.  Near launch, they realized it was a load of crap and came back to us.  Again, if the truth were known, they just didn’t like our price and thought we might compromise.  Instead it was conveyed to me that it was our ‘lead time’ that was a problem and not the price. Yeah yeah yeah!  They wanted something like 15 systems done in 5 days.  The way ADmaze Media does systems, it is so complete and absolutely spot on, one system takes at least a month to complete.  This is why we help some banks win awards (Gulf Bank Kuwait for example and there are more) Whatever, Viva have got what they paid for (twice). Same as Batelco, same as Mina Telecoms, BBK Bank and God knows who else.  Helli Welli as they say in these parts. (It means ‘so what – never mind’).

We/I bear no malice, I actually adore all telecom companies, because I am a telecom man.  Batelco are good all rounders and nobody can take that away from them.  Like so many telcom companies throughout the world, Batelco’s as with Zain’s  image, advertising and P.R. is really pretty 3rd world, kindergarten pap, but what do you expect from these monster corporations who just don’t listen.  Then again, the public don’t listen either and we are all anesthetized to it.

Other than being grains of sands by comparison, ADmaze Media is no different to the likes of Nokia-Siemens or Ericcson for example, whereby by default we work with all the Telecom Companies. Yes we do a lot of work with Zain but  it is not unusual for ADmaze to be present whenever there is a launch, for whoever.  For centuries before that, I worked with Bahrain Telecommunications (Batelco) until their chronic disregard for passion and loyalty pissed me off.  Nothing personal with them, it is just they are a corporation and people move around and the structure doesn’t handle creative arts or intangible product as an on going thing.

Yes, they are all the same and in upcoming articles we’ll look at what you really get and what is coming as far as L.T.E. (Long Term Evolution or as we say in the trade Lots of Telecom Equipment) and 5G (I’ll be dead by then).


One Response to “33 IS SEXY”

  1. Svetlana on February 13th, 2010 10:33 am

    “I don’t even try and remember numbers, I just store new numbers in my phone under a name and let the phone do the rest. Don’t we all?
    No not all. On the other hand, people (like me) with photographic memory will remember any number despite the order, simplicity or complexity.
    Why people go for VIVA? Let’s not forget that there are more followers than leaders. The whole idea (33) is to target the followers. People like to be part of the crowd, feel safer there. In the beginning, those who wanted to be different got Zain numbers, because at the time was only Batelco, and many were quite fed up with the monopoly. Now with the 3rd operator is not a question of demand or need but simply signs of the syndrome of the flock.
    Why do folks want to have good numbers? It is not because of memory problems, not at all. Most of them pretend they are well connected or like to demonstrate well-being, high standard of life and want to hear “ooh you have a good number” and who knows what else.

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