Tuesday, February 08, 2005

At Last - a Post About Etisalat!

The UAE is fortunate in having one of the most progressive, efficient and downright wonderful telecommunications service providers in the world. I refer of course to Etisalat (which apparently is short for Emirates Telecommunications Corporation). When you only have one phone company, mobile network and Internet Service Provider, you just have to love them. They struggle bravely on, and occasionally turn a small profit.

Etisalat has a peculiar place in the business environment in the UAE - they are probably the biggest company in the country, they certainly employ the most locals, and they are expanding overseas (they recently won, as leader of a consortium, the licence to print money build Saudi Arabia's second mobile phone network). The reason for Etisalat's peculiarity is that they were granted an official monopoly on telecoms services when the country was invented. And the price of this monopoly is that they have to pay half of their profits to the Federal Government every year.

Just over a year ago, the monopoly was cancelled. Other players would be allowed to enter the market and compete with Etisalat. Whoop-di-do. Since then absolutely nothing has happened, because the Government announced that any competitor would have to give a 51% controlling stake to the Government. Yeah right, anybody would think that made economic sense.

Anyhoo, it amazes me that I have not blogged about Etisalat before, maybe I've been happy about everything. In fact they should have got a mention in my posts about the webcast a few weeks ago, because they really pulled out all the stops for me - couldn't quite get me enough bandwidth, but many thanks for trying Mr Pinto and crew, and for being on-hand all day long.

But today, Etisalat pulled a blinder. They really did. As you know, if you've been paying attention, we've recently been fiddling about with the company structure. As a result of which, we needed to register a local domain name. You cannot register a .ae domain name with anyone but Etisalat. And you would think, wouldn't you, that in this Interweb age, that would be a simple matter, something you could do on one o' them thar website things in a matter of minutes.

Ha! Foolish mortal!

No, what you can do is download an application form, print it out and fill it in by hand. Then you have to take it to one of Etisalat's bigger offices, hang around in a queue for a while, and then discover that you're in the wrong place. So you go to the right place, where thankfully there is no queue, hand over the form and a copy of your trade licence. Oh, and quite a lot of money. Eventually the transaction is complete and they print out a letter for you. This has your order number and other details, and three phone numbers on it that you have to call when you want your domain name activated.

Fortunately we are not buying one of Etisalat's hosting packages (there's barely enough money on the planet to pay for one of those!), we're hosting it on one of our servers in the UK. So I had the UK boys set up the site, and then it's a question of calling Etisalat and telling them to activate it. Not.

The first number I called was not answered.

The second one was answered, but by a guy who knows everything about leased lines, and nothing about anything else. 'You wanna activate leased line, wassa numma?', 'no, not leased line, domain name!', 'no dummy name, leased line wassa numma?'. Sheesh. I try the first number again, and the guy is back from his cigarette break. He knows everything about domain names.

He cannot find my domain name or work order on the computer. He is baffled. He sounds like a nice guy, and we have a bit of banter about how useless Etisalat can be at times. After a bit it occurs to him to ask when I did the registration. This morning, I say. You could almost hear the sharp intake of breath. Well, obviously it can't be done in a day, this is Etisalat, we have many sections, they are far apart and communication is sometimes difficult. I explain to him that my company does domain name registrations and hosting, and we can set up an account in ten minutes. Our sections are 4,000 miles apart and we can manage it.

Then he hits me with the sucker punch. Normally this could be activated tomorrow. But tomorrow is a Public Holiday (Islamic New Year, 1426 already). Thursday and Friday they are closed as normal. So it'll be Saturday, if I'm lucky and he can find the work order in the computer.

I love Etisalat, they are so entertaining.

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