TBY talks to Talal Bin Saeed Bin Marhoon Al Mamari, CEO of Omantel, on growth in 2016 and plans for the future.

Talal Bin Saeed Bin Marhoon Al Mamari
Talal Bin Saeed Bin Marhoon Al Mamari has been the CEO of Omantel since June 2014. He has 23 years of experience in the telecoms sector working for Omantel. Prior to his appointment as CEO, he held several leadership positions and the last one was CFO of Omantel. Al Mamari sits on the board of different authorities, companies, and investment funds such as the Oman Corporate Governance & Sustainability Centre, Worldcall Telecom, and Al Amal Fund. He holds a degree in business administration from Duquesne University, Pittsburgh.

Omantel maintained profitability in 2016 despite a shifting environment. Can you give us an overview of your performance?

Despite a gloomy economic environment, mainly due to the current oil price and the dependence of the country on these revenues, we have been able to grow, mainly through data. Data, whether through mobile or fixed line, has been a major driver of growth throughout the year. We also saw that outside the oil and gas sector the enterprise segment of the market has witnessed growth, and we are seeing good potential there. In terms of the financial performance of Omantel, the growth has been driven by data from the consumer end, and revenues relating to our wholesale expansion. Wholesale has been a major pillar in the Omantel growth story of late, and we are expanding the number of systems that are landing in Oman. We are leveraging from this infrastructure to be the true gate for the Middle East in terms of telecom. The value of data that has been passing through our networks connecting businesses and operators from the east of the globe to the west, and vice versa has witnessed growth this year. Growth in that area has supplemented lower growth in the consumer segments and is a part of our diversification strategy.

Can we expect further announcements beyond the two current cable expansion plans?

Global data growth has been significant in the last three years. Growth in data will continue in our region and is driven by a new dynamic. Data has become a new form of trade, and traditional trade has always been mainly driven by goods and services crossing the globe through conventional transportation. That transportation is now happening virtually, and Oman is still at the crossroads. With new technologies and the effects of globalization, we are seeing designers in Europe sending designs to manufacturers in Asia, which requires high-speed and dependable data routes. Our wholesale strategy has been focused to strengthen our conventional routes, which link east to west but also come up with unconventional routes that are growing quickly. We recently announced a cable that is unconventional in the sense that we are connecting China through the Silk Road and approaching Central Asia as well, and getting all of this to land in Oman. From Oman it can go west, which is traditional, and will go all the way to the global south by landing in East Africa. To leverage the growth and the lack of infrastructure in Africa we are employing what we call our X strategy. If we imagine the globe from east to west as a horizontal, then the vertical will be coming from Asia all the way from north to south, forming an X. Our strategy is beyond traditional and unconventional routes though; the idea is to make Oman and Omantel the hub for content providers. Today, we have a number of major global content providers such as Microsoft, Facebook, Akamai, and Level 3, which all have a base in Oman. This accumulated base, which hosts these content providers, serves a strong purpose; hosting Oman's internet, whereby 75% of the internet is served domestically. If someone is seeking specific content then his or her content will likely be hosted here and will not need to go to Hong Kong, Singapore, or Frankfurt. The majority of operators in the GCC actually link to Oman to obtain their content. It is not only GCC; today we have operators from Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, and Iraq, which are getting to the notes that are available here in Oman. This is a growing area.

Omantel has other global ambitions, one of which is a stake in Pakistan's WorldCall. What can you say about the future of your stake in WorldCall?

Right now we are in exit mode when it comes to WorldCall. At this point in time, we have received a binding offer from an organization within Pakistan and therefore it is subject to due diligence and clearances from the authorities within Pakistan. This is ongoing and hopefully by the first quarter of 2017 this process can close. We understand that so called non-organic growth is also required and therefore scouting for opportunities will continue until we find something that strategically and financially fits the objectives of Omantel.