Du said on Sunday that plans to roll out free Wi-Fi services would not hurt its mobile data revenue.
The telecoms operator and the Smart Dubai Executive Committee said WiFi UAE, a nationwide free Wi-Fi project designed to boost the take-up of e-government services, went live in more than 200 locations across Dubai.
The locations include the Dubai Tram, Dubai Metro, Knowledge Village, the DIFC, Dubai Media City, Emaar Boulevard, Global Village and du retail outlets.
Du, which signed an initial agreement with Smart Dubai in October for the provision of the free service, said that it was not receiving payment from the Dubai government for the service.
“This is a part of us extending the connectivity we offer through our mobile network across various locations,” said du’s chief executive Osman Sultan. “This is an investment that we are doing as part of our commitment to Smart Dubai.”
Mr Sultan insisted the company would be able to earn from the service, and that it would not eat into the operator’s growing mobile data revenues.
“We believe at du we’re offering data access for very interesting rates, and this service is a continuation of this,” he said.
“There will probably be some revenue streams potentially and progressively built through the use of advertising, as a way of getting some return on investment.”
WiFi UAE users are able to choose from a free restricted-speed service and a higher-speed premium service, with options of six hours for Dh20 (useable over three days) or 20 hours for Dh50, usable over a seven-day period.
Mr Sultan noted that users of the free service were obliged to watch a video advertisement in exchange for an hour’s internet access, which generated advertising revenue.
Mobile internet is one of du’s fastest-growing business lines, buoyed by the UAE’s sky-high smartphone penetration.
Du’s mobile data revenue rose by 14 per cent in the first quarter of this year compared with a year earlier, and now accounts for 31 per cent of mobile revenue.
The operator’s total quarterly revenue grew by just 3.2 per cent over the same period.
“I believe the thinking at du is that by offering a higher-speed, paid-for option, in addition to the basic access at restricted speeds, and combined with the continual growth in the demand for data, this service can be commercially viable,” said Matthew Reed, the practice leader for the Middle East and Africa at Ovum in Dubai.
WiFi UAE is restricted to those with UAE mobile phone numbers, with users receiving a one-time Pin number through SMS for the activation of the service.
“Dubai will become a truly smart city when people coming in and out can access complementary Wi-Fi in a convenient and seamless manner,” said Mr Sultan.
“There are some approvals we need to get and some processes to put in place, so we don’t want to make a pronouncement about when it will go live for everyone, but we’re working really hard to make it happen.”
The service will expand in the coming months to Dubai’s parks and beaches through an agreement with Dubai Municipality, together with other locations including The Dubai Mall.
“The WiFi UAE announcement is a step forward in Dubai’s transformation into the smartest city in the world,” said Aisha bin Bishr, a member of the executive committee of the Smart Dubai Initiative.