A BETTER FOOTPRINT

Qatar 2014 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ali Ahmed Al-Kuwari, CEO of the Qatar Satellite Company (Es'hailSat), on the ICT sector, launching a satellite, and building human resources.

What is your overview of the ICT sector in its current state?

Qatar's vision for 2030 has four pillars. One of those pillars is economic development and to have a knowledge-based economy. The goal is now to diversify away from the oil and gas sector to other industries. This is driven by the vision of His Highness the Emir. If you look back to the early 2000s, the main driver of the Qatari economy was oil and gas. Today, Qatar is investing heavily to diversify its economy. The ICT sector is led by ictQATAR as the regulator, and it has established different operators to enable the ICT sector and to promote its agenda, which in the end will meet the Qatar National Vision 2030. The country's ICT sector is mainly comprised of Qatar Satellite (Es'hailSat), Qatar National Broadband, as well as the telecoms operators. Five years ago, there was only one operator, but today there are several, which is a testament to Qatar's desire to open the market and promote the diversification of the economy. Diversification is a very important point, and it needs to be considered seriously because oil and gas are finite raw materials, and every country needs to have a backup plan to have resources and run the economy. In Qatar, we have the ICT sector and the sports sectors, which today is not only about the World Cup but also investments. We also have the tourism sector, which has projects and investment diversification opportunities.

How do these plans synergize with the Qatar National Vision?

People are the main assets. If we are investing in our staff, that means we are investing in assets. Our team of Qatari engineers will definitely contribute to the company, which will contribute to the ICT sector, which will contribute to the overall Qatari vision; it is all interrelated. Humans are the main resource and we cannot ignore them. That is why we are investing in our team. Indirectly, they will complement our vision and they will complement the Qatari 2030 vision.

“People are the main assets. If we are investing in our staff, that means we are investing in assets."

What does Es'hailSat's target market consist of, and what do you plan to offer these clients?

Es'hailSat was established in 2010 to serve the strategic and commercial objective of the state of Qatar. This country has many broadcasters, the most well-known being Al Jazeera. In 2010, when Al Jazeera won the broadcasting rights for FIFA 2010 in South Africa, it suffered from severe interference from signal jamming. Es'hailSat's strategic objective is to help the local and national broadcasters maintain the continuity of their broadcasts without interference. The commercial objectives will be formed once the strategic objectives have been fulfilled. Our customers will be mainly broadcasters, not only in Qatar but also around the region. Our primary services are broadcasting and telecoms.

What are the characteristics of the satellite?

The satellite will have four main purposes: to provide continuity of service and wide coverage for broadcasters, serve as a government aid, provide trunking and telecommunications, and develop the use of the KU and KA bandwidths for advanced communications services. The satellite is now being built in Palo Alto, California. It is scheduled to be launched in August 2013 by an Ariane rocket from French Guiana.

What is your competitive advantage in the MENA region?

Our satellite will be in one of the hotspots. In MENA, we have two hotspots: 7 west and 25.5 east. Today, 7 west is owned by Eutelsat and NileSat, the Egyptian operator. The majority of 25.5 east is owned by Arabsat and part of it by Eutelsat. When we decided to build and launch a satellite, we decided to be in a hotspot. This is why we entered a deal with Eutelsat to lease their frequency at 25.5 east. We will have fair commercial competition and the quality of service should be the factor as to who gets selected. This will be the differentiating factor.

What is your outlook for Qatar's ICT sector as a whole?

The sector is growing; that is undeniable. By having the new projects that Qatar has, such as the rail system, it is not only infrastructure and construction, but many industries that are involved. In my view, the ICT sector is growing daily, as is the demand. Technology is evolving. If you survive and cope with the changes in the sector and provide the best services for your shareholders, you have done the right thing. I used to work at ictQatar. In 2004, it had about 40 staff; today, it has about 300 employees. ictQatar is engaged in health, education, and security.

What are your plans in the run up to the launch?

We recently built a Capacity Management Center. This center will monitor our satellite quality, the signal strength, and help our team interface with customers to see if there are any problems. Our plan from today to the launch is to have the center up and running at 100%. In addition, we had four engineers in Palo Alto, where they received an intensive training program especially tailored for our team. We are also finishing the process of recruiting some more key people in the company.

What does the launching of a Qatar-developed satellite mean for the country on the world stage?

I am very proud of this, and I am sure that other Qataris are proud as well. We just came from the Cable & Satellite exhibition in Dubai and that was our first participation in such a show. The following day, on Twitter, people started commenting about Es'hailSat, especially Qataris. People are expecting the best. This has put us under pressure. For Qatar it will bring another era to the ICT sector. Also, His Highness the Emir made an opening speech at a conference in 2012 mentioning Es'hailSat. He focused on Es'hailSat, which means a lot to us. It is a source of pride. Qataris are eagerly waiting for the launch and they are expecting the best.

© The Business Year - May 2013