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Kuwait 2017 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Tawfiq Ahmed Bin Sultan, Chairman of the Middle East Telecommunications Company (METCO), on e-government potential, the future of the economy, and the state of technology uptake in Kuwait.

Tawfiq Ahmed Bin Sultan
BIOGRAPHY
Tawfiq Ahmed Bin Sultan is Chairman of Middle East Telecommunications Company and has been instrumental in the growth of the company. Furthermore, he serves as the Chairman of Towell International Holding.

What is the scope of METCO's operations? What are the recent trends in the market in Kuwait?

METCO mainly concentrates on two arms of the telecommunications business: we provide transmission services for the operators, and we do enterprise activities, such as call centers. Of course, the technology in telecommunications changes so rapidly and the market is becoming over saturated. There are big players that concentrate on penetrating the market as much as they can with new technology. While competition is a healthy thing to have, there is certainly a high level of saturation. There is a lot of refurbished second-hand hardware coming into the gray market here and this equipment is being sold as new. Unfortunately, there are still no controls over these gray-market products.

What opportunities do you see for METCO in e-government solutions and what are the challenges for your industry?

The government has said repeatedly it wants to create an e-government system here, but it is taking a long time. Other countries have overtaken Kuwait's efforts. I hope that the government implements an e-government scheme soon because it will create transparency, better access to information, and improve official processes. For example, it takes a long time to register a company in Kuwait—the bureaucratic process is long. The new Minister of Trade and Commerce has announced that he is going to change the regulations and introduce e-registration for companies. Some of these changes have already been introduced, but we hope the rest will follow soon.

How do you envisage Kuwait transforming into a knowledge-based economy and developing non-oil revenue streams?

The fact is that Kuwait does not have any resources other than oil, so whatever we do has to be around the oil sector and its further development. The other area that was identified by His Highness the Amir many years ago was the transformation of Kuwait into a business and financial center. However, doing that will require a lot of concentrated effort and expertise to handle the development of that sector. The vision is right, but unfortunately the implementation of that vision has been slow. We need to put a complete team in place to drive this, and this has been done.

Where does Kuwait rank as an early adopter of technology compared to the other countries METCO operates in?

Kuwait is in the middle; it could be much more advanced in the adoption of new technologies given the availability of wealth and our educated people, such as our knowledgeable graduates coming out of university. Certainly the country could have done much better and we need a chance to do this. METCO is trying to drive the industry by sending our people to advanced courses outside Kuwait in places such as Europe. It is difficult to get the right people from the universities and train them up in the ICT field because most people want an easy job.

In what ways is METCO striving for innovation and what partnerships do you look for to support this process?

The area of innovation I see the whole telecommunications sector moving to at the moment is the development of applications. Applications are becoming the primary innovations of the industry. I think the old age of boxes has finished; now the aim is to have applications and those applications are really becoming the area of most interest to many people. We are actively looking for new partnerships in this field.

What characteristics does METCO look for in its prospective partners?

We look for individuals who can complement our ideas with their ideas, and we plug them together. We are in the stage of developing an application that should be very interesting, and we are collaborating with some US-based companies. This will hopefully be our contribution to innovation here.

How have you advanced with your regional expansion?

METCO operates in several countries in the region. Our headquarters are in Kuwait, and we have operations in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Sudan. We used to work in Nigeria and some other African countries, but those are on hold for the time being. We certainly hope to work in different areas, such as North Africa, but that decision will be made once political stability improves in those areas.