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NSN Lands Monster Saudi Deal

Nokia Networks has begun 2008 on a positive note, landing a 2G and 3G systems and services contract worth $935 million from Middle Eastern mobile operator Zain Group , one of the region's most powerful carriers. (See Zain Picks NSN and Who Does What: Middle East Carriers.)

The deal includes the design, construction, and management of a greenfield mobile network in Saudi Arabia, where Zain won the country's third mobile license in July 2007. The operator plans to launch its services in the first half of this year. (See MTC Receives Saudi Approval.)

After a turbulent 2007, which marked NSN's first eight months in business, the Zain deal comes as a positive boost for the vendor, which is striving to cut its costs and make itself more competitive in an increasingly tough mobile market. (See Nokia Sets Financial Targets, NSN Improves, Confirms Extra Cuts, NSN Products Face Further Cuts, Nokia Siemens Suffers Merger Blues, and Instant Revamp for Nokia Siemens.)

"This deal is one of the most important in Nokia Siemens Networks’ history," stated Dr. Walid Moneimne, chairman for the Middle East and Africa region at NSN, in a press release.

The vendor said in December it expected only "very slight growth" in the mobile and fixed infrastructure and related services market in 2008.

The five-year turnkey contract awarded by Zain includes core and radio access networks, as well as managed services, such as network planning, systems integration, multi-vendor maintenance, and field services. NSN will also deliver operation and business support systems (OSS/BSS) as well as a prepaid solution, called [email protected], for voice and data services.

Zain's core network will include NSN's MSC Server mobile softswitch, and the 3G network will include high-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA) and high-speed uplink packet access (HSUPA) capabilities.

Kuwait-based Zain, formerly known as Mobile Telecommunications Co. (MTC), is one of the Middle East's heavyweights, and is pushing aggressively into new markets . (See Zain Bets Billions on Emerging Markets, Zain to Raise Funds, Zain Unites Iraq Units, Celtel Acquires Westel, and MTC Rebrands as Zain.)

Zain had 36.5 million customers across its six Middle Eastern and 14 African markets at the end of September 2007.

The international operator narrowly missed inclusion in Light Reading's recent Top Ten Emerging Market Carriers report, which is ranked according to revenues. But with expansion into Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Ghana, Zain looks set to break into that Top Ten soon.

Zain isn't the only mobile carrier expanding in Saudi Arabia. The country's second mobile operator, Etihad Etisalat Co. (Mobily) , just awarded Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) a $150 million GSM expansion contract. (See Mobily Picks Moto.)

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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