TBY talks to Said Al-Mandhari, CEO of Oman Broadband Company, on the company's current projects, increasing broadband coverage, and stimulating demand.

Said Al-Mandhari
Said Al-Mandhari started his role as a CEO for the Oman Broadband Company at the beginning of 2014, after working for more than 15 years in the ICT sector. Prior to working for OBC, he was the General Manager of MDS-Oman for six years, managing more than 150 professionals in the IT and telecommunication sector. Prior to to that, he worked for the Government of Oman and was involved in multiple national projects related to the e-government initiatives. In addition to his current full time job, Said is working as an advisor for The Research Council (TRC).

In 2015, you talked about the under-developed regulatory framework between Oman Broadband and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) in Oman. What progress has been made over the last year with this issue?

Oman Broadband is part of the telecoms sector in Oman and the company was created by the government of the Sultan of Oman as part of the National Broadband Strategy (NBS) approved by Oman's Cabinet of Ministers. Oman Broadband has permission from the TRA to commercialize the fiber-optic infrastructure. Currently, we provide our services on a wholesale basis to licensed operators and government entities in Oman. Besides that, one of the pillars of the NBS is to look into the current licensing regimes. We are working closely with the concerned authorities to know more about that and to identify the type of the license that we need to apply for, considering the fact that the current market or licensing structure is based on classes I, II, and III, and the business is integrated between the service layers and the infrastructure layers.

How is the fiber-to-home initiative progressing in Oman, and is bringing high-speed, fiber-optic connections to households still a big priority for Oman Broadband?

The main purpose behind creating Oman Broadband is to bring the latest technology to homes by providing efficient infrastructure of high-speed fiber connectivity and providing a broader online experience, in addition to enabling the smart homes applications, bringing benefits to society and the business sector with an enhanced delivery of smart services, cost savings, increased competitiveness, and improved sustainability. Toward achieving that, we are moving according to our master plan, which means completing 85% coverage in Muscat by 2020. We are also looking to have 30% coverage outside Muscat by the end of 2020.

Oman Broadband has a pilot program where provides high-speed internet services through the communications infrastructure of electricity companies. How would you characterize the efficacy of this program, and what are the benefits?

There are two points when it comes to utilizing the current infrastructure. On one side, we are in alignment with infrastructure so that we can rollout alongside these projects, meaning we do not have to dig to lay cables. The position is similar for all the utilities providers for electricity, water, and wastewater projects. The other initiative we started in 2014-2015 is to expand our reach using the current telecoms infrastructure. There are some fiber-optic lines that are under-utilized, and we can use these to reach remote areas. This does not help us much on the FTTH project because this is usually across cities. It helps us more expanding to rural areas of Oman. We are in the final stages of completing the technical guidelines relating to how we can use fiber optics belonging to other utility sectors without disrupting their business.

What is your outlook for the year ahead at Oman Broadband?

I would like to elaborate more on 2020 and beyond, not only the coming year. Oman, like every country, has it specifics. We have managed to adjust our model and create efficient organization able to meet challenging targets. Our mission is to unlock the potential in numerous areas due to the solid broadband infrastructure we provide, which is an enabler for the knowledge-based economy. To accompany that, we closely cooperate with all stakeholders, primarily Ministry of Transport and Communications, Telecommunication Regulatory Authority, Information Technology Authority, and relevant government authorities as well as the service providers with a goal of providing and stimulating the demand for broadband through integration with other sectors under the umbrella of the National Broadband Strategy and National Vision 2020 (E-Government, Oman Digital Society, and others). I am happy to say that Oman Broadband is one of the major players and taking an active role in those discussions and initiatives, which leaves us in confidence that we are on the right track in terms of broadband infrastructure deployment to meet the future demands. This is very important as the world is changing faster than ever before. Today, everybody talks about IoT and Big data; new technologies are developed, and existing ones are improved to support the smart city concept. It is of vital importance that we closely observe developments and plan our network to be able to connect the required infrastructure not only today, but in the future. We want to see Oman as a positive example for other countries in the region and beyond, and we will be happy to share our experiences.