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Egypt mobile firms offer discounts during Ramadan

CAIRO, Aug 20 (Reuters) - Egypt’s trio of mobile operators are taking their battle for consumer loyalty into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, offering rate reductions for pilgrims and charity initiatives aimed to benefit the poor in Egypt.

The moves reflect increasingly fierce competition between Mobinil EMOB.CA, Vodafone Egypt VOD.L and Etisalat Egypt ETEL.AD, which have all slashed rates to woo new users in a market analysts say may approach saturation within six years.

Mobinil and Etisalat Egypt, a unit of UAE-based Etisalat, have cut their roaming fees to 50 piastres ($0.09) per minute for customers to receive calls from Egypt while performing the umrah pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia during Ramadan.

Vodafone Egypt, a subsidiary of global operator Vodafone, is offering six free roaming minutes in any ten days of Ramadan for Egyptians in Saudi Arabia for a one-off cost of 3 pounds.

“They are getting very aggressive in term of offers, even more than last year when emphasis was more on the on-net tariffs,” said Nadine Ghobrial, a telecom analyst at EFG-Hermes.

On-net refers to calls between phones on the same network.

“Operators have only one way to go in terms of tariffs, which is down,” Ghobrial added.

Each of the Egyptian firms have reached roaming agreements with a different Saudi operator. Mobinil customers will use the Zain 7030.SE network, Etisalat's offer is on Mobily 7020.SE and Vodafone's is via Saudi Telecom Co. (STC)7010.SE.

Egypt’s mobile penetration has been growing steadily with more than a million new mobile subscribers added in each of the last nine months, taking the total above 48 million in a country with a population of 77 million.[ID:nLC644474]

Analysts say growth will likely slow as saturation levels are approached at around 80 to 85 percent of the population.

Umrah, unlike the haj pilgrimage, can be performed at any time of the year but it is especially popular in the last 10 days of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which is expected to start around Aug. 22.

The minor pilgrimage attracts up to 2 million Muslims from around the world, though Saudi Arabia has said numbers may be lower this year due to fears over swine flu.

Mobinil have also launched a plan to donate one Egyptian pound from every transaction made during the month to a network of micro-financing charities.

Earlier this year, Etisalat dropped its tariff for calls to any network in Egypt to 19 piastres and Mobinil followed suit by offering an across-network plan for 15 piastres.

Vodafone, which has tended in the past to focus on corporate customers, have stuck to on-network deals as low as 10 piastres from the second minute of a call, and charges 30 piastres for calls to other networks. ($1 = 5.55 Egyptian pounds)

Editing by Mariam Karouny

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