Telecoms & IT
A Bit More Byte
The Supreme Council of Information and Communication Technology (ictQATAR), the Qatari national regulatory authority, is energetically working toward the general liberalization of the telecoms market using the full range of powers it has been granted. Focusing on improved connectivity, increased capacity, economic development, better public service delivery, and leveraging social benefits derived from ICT, the organization has a broad vision. In time for the completion of the Qatar ICT Strategy 2015, the Kuwait Financial Center (Markaz) predicts that ICT could contribute up to $3 billion of the country’s GDP, which would be double the figure for 2010. The prosperous hydrocarbon sector and heavy government spending are allowing Qatar to maintain pace with the world of digital technology, and the nation is increasingly emerging as a regional leader in the field with its healthy, competitive market.
HEDGE YOUR NETS
Visitors to Qatar immediately realize the importance of ICT in the country; Doha airport offers free, high-speed internet, just one of the many initiatives that is cementing the nation’s reputation for technological prowess. As is the trend in the largely cash-rich GCC, ownership of mobile devices and laptops is high, with the average household holding three mobiles, two computers, and a smartphone. Internet penetration is also high, rising from 38% of the population in 2008, to 69.3% in 2012, indicating increased awareness of the benefits of technology among Qataris. An impressive 85% of households can now count on a broadband connection.
However, broadband speed is not universally impressive, with around 50% of users complaining of speeds of between 256 Kbps and 1 Mbps. The Qatar National Broadband Network was established to deliver broadband across the country with an advanced fiber-optic network, which will exponentially increase access speed. Its passive dark fiber network infrastructure is designed to provide equal access to telecommunication service providers, complementing ictQATAR’s various efforts in this regard.
E-government is being dynamically expanded to include crucial segments such as health and education. “Before the establishment of Malomatia, Qatar was heavily dependent upon international companies when it came to the implementation of clinical information systems in hospitals or in e-health information systems,” Yusuf Al-Naama, CEO of Malomatia, explained in conversation with TBY. “Our commitment has been to benchmark ourselves with the finest e-government implementations and solutions.” A country-wide health information system is planned to improve the provision of healthcare by making residents’ profiles available in any clinic, and generally improve efficiency in the segment.
LICENSE TO SKILL
Another challenge facing the sector is a lack of skill among many citizens, particularly women, older people, and unskilled laborers. The cost of technology is a barrier to the development of ICT know-how, and is one factor that is holding back the sector. In response, government, local, and international firms are investing in training, and it is hoped that a fairer balance of ICT accessibility will bring the country closer to its goal of becoming a knowledge economy. “In 2012, we trained almost 1,000 people with ictQATAR on the new technologies from Microsoft,” noted Naim Yazbeck, Country Manager of Microsoft, during a conversation with TBY. “We also have a program for women in IT, which is intended both for women working outside and inside the home.” Training initiatives such as these are helping move the country forward, without leaving its most vulnerable citizens behind. David Banes, CEO of Mada (Qatar Assistive Technology Center), commented that its mission of connecting disabled people is about social inclusion. “[When we started], there were few companies—other than those serving the blind community—that did anything in this area, or even in the region,” he noted. In addition to this work, Mada has a progressive R&D department, working to invent Arabic language assistive technology for the GCC. Overall, however, due to a wider range of data packages available and increased global smartphone production, Qatar’s ICT sector is increasingly focused on portable connectivity.
SMARTER THAN THE REST
Since the 2007 opening of the mobile segment to competition, it has gone from strength to strength. Qtel Group changed its brand to Ooredoo (Arabic for “I want”) in 1Q 2013. The company has 2.5 million subscribers in Qatar, and had a turnover of QAR6.2 billion in 2012. Like its competitor, Vodafone, Ooredoo offers mobile and fixed-line services. Ooredoo Qatar took over two-thirds of Qatar’s overall market revenue growth, half of the mobile market revenue growth, and 80% of all new mobile customers. In addition, the company surpassed its 40% Qatarization goal.
Vodafone had a turnover of QAR1.53 billion in 2012. By March 2013, Vodafone had 1,084,000 subscribers, having breached the 1 million mark in just three years of operations. Vodafone calculates that its 31.8% customer market share at that point represents its share of SIMs in the market, meaning that over 56% of the population have a Vodafone SIM, as mobile penetration rates were at 176%. “Many of our customers are expatriates spending their disposable income on calling home,” explained Kyle Whitehill, CEO of Vodafone Qatar, in an interview with TBY. “We have been able to attract higher value customers with our post-paid service, which was launched in 2012.”
QAHWA & TV
An area of great success for the Qatari communications sector has been the success of the award-winning Al Jazeera television network. Launched in 1996 with a loan from the Qatari government, it achieved unprecedented success over the following years, later expanding to encompass an English-language offshoot in 2003. Its principled editorial decisions and unwillingness to shy away from challenging topics and censorship-happy governments won it favor throughout the Arab world, and contributed in no small way to Qatar’s reputation as a regionally significant force. In order to sustain its regional broadcasting services, Qatar’s satellite company has launched its first satellite, with a second one to follow in 2016.
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