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Vodafone inks deal with Zain to fly its flag across Middle East

Going to Iraq on hols? Now you can roam with Voda

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Roaming in the Middle East should get easier as local mobile operator Zain will carry Vodafone's traffic and sport Voda's brand across the region.

Travellers taking in the sights and sounds of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan and Iraq can access Vodafone's services, as part of a deal between the two companies to carry each other's customers beyond their existing borders.

The deal is in line with Vodafone's policy of spreading its brand, rather than trying to extend its networks, around the world. Not only is that cheaper, it also gives Vodafone flexibility to switch allegiance if things aren't working out for it.

Zain, on the other hand, has an aggressive policy of setting up in other countries, and has acquired more than 30 million customers thanks largely to its policy of not charging roaming rates to punters within the company's footprint. At one point that area covered central Africa, providing free roaming across an area around twice the size of Europe, although Zain sold off most of its African holdings in 2010.

These days Zain has operations in Lebanon, Morocco and across the Sudan, in addition to the counties where it will be carrying Vodafone's branding. The Lebanon operation is only managed by Zain, the network remains government property, and Morocco is a 50-50 venture, while the Sudanese biz split in two (like the country).

The operator's One Network is particularly popular in Iraq, where it holds more than half the mobile market with more than 12 million subscribers who can travel into Jordan without incurring roaming fees. That network also extends into Palestine, by agreement with local operator Jawwal, which is hugely beneficial given the flow of workers from that country into Jordan.

How far One Network will extend into Vodafone's footprint we don't know: the companies will only say that they will both be introducing new price plans, but for Vodafone the carriage of services is equally important.

Mobile operators want to do much more than route calls these days, but many of those premium services stop working once the customer leaves their home country. This deal should allow Vodafone customers to access those additional services on Zain's network, and let Vodafone sell them to Zain's customers too. ®

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