BOARD STRATEGY

Oman 2015 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Said Al-Mandhari, CEO of the Oman Broadband Company, on the need to boost fixed infrastructure across Oman.

Said Al-Mandhari
BIOGRAPHY
Said Al-Mandhari became the CEO of the Oman Broadband Company in 2014 after gaining more than 15 years of experience in the ICT sector. Prior to this position, he was the General Manager of MDS-Oman for six years, managing more than 150 professionals in the ICT sector. In addition to his current position, he is working as an advisor for The Research Council (TRC).

Why did the Council of Ministers establish the Oman Broadband Company?

Oman is facing many challenges when it comes to geography and population distribution. Oman has a population of 10 people per square kilometer, which is very low compared to other regional countries. That means that any infrastructure projects that you carry out will only serve a few people at a high infrastructure cost against a low return on investment. That makes it difficult for the telecommunications operators or for the private sector to invest as the commercial justification is simply not there. As a consequence, Oman has been experiencing significant growth when it comes to mobile broadband; however, we are lagging behind when it comes to fixed-broadband penetration. We are the second country in the Gulf in terms of mobile penetration, while we are the last when it comes to fixed broadband. The government would like to achieve open access to telecommunications infrastructure for both current and future operators, with equivalence in access and transparent pricing. Having this infrastructure funded and owned by the government makes it easier for the operators to focus on competing and investing in high-quality internet and other services.

What will be the impact of consolidated broadband infrastructure on Oman's economy?

It has been proven worldwide that any growth in fixed broadband reflects a direct impact on GDP. Statistics say that the GDP of developing countries grew by 1.38 percentage points for each 10% increase in national broadband penetration. This is the direct impact on the economy, but there are other benefits of having more widespread broadband, one of them being the creation of a knowledge-based economy. We want to create job opportunities in the technology and ICT sectors, and employ graduates. We will also assist in the creation of a platform for electronic services and the development of the content- and cloud-based service sectors. The new broadband infrastructure linked with Oman's strategic geographical position and the favorable access to international internet gateways creates the opportunity to elevate Oman to a key regional internet and hosting hub. This in itself has fundamental implications for Oman's economy and international recognition.

What kind of technology will be applied to the development of broadband in the Sultanate?

A few years back, the government used the opportunity and decided to lay fiber alongside wastewater network projects in Muscat. This strategic decision means that we are not starting from zero; we are starting with around 20% coverage of fiber optics in Muscat. Therefore, the immediate task and opportunity is to enable operators to use existing fiber optics. It will be operational from 2015, and will be offered as a wholesale service for all licensed operators to be able to offer fiber broadband services to their customer base in Muscat. In general, the Oman Broadband Company has three main plans when it comes to the implementation of broadband. These plans will run in parallel to expand the reachability and accelerate the rollout of broadband across the Sultanate. The first one is for the Muscat region, where as mentioned we will be commercializing the existent fiber of Haya Water after transferring it to Oman Broadband Company and then expanding the rollout to cover about 90% of Muscat by 2021. The second plan focuses on the urban regions lying outside Muscat where, due to the lower demand and the geographical spread, we are to steadily deploy fiber until 2030. Again, in order to do this we are to align with other utility projects across the country, therefore reducing the civil works cost of the fiber deployment program. In the interim until fiber reaches these areas, we are to support the operators in delivering mobile broadband by providing backhaul connectivity to their sites and supporting the deployment of new telecoms towers. The third plan is for the rural areas that are currently not covered. We are working with the operators to reach all areas by satellite or wireless, and to provide basic broadband services. We build the backbone infrastructure, and the operators come in and offer their services.