CYBERSECURITY IN DOHA

Qatar 2019 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Eng. Ahmed Salman Ali Al-Sulaiti, CEO of Qatar National Broadband Network (Qnbn), on competition, cybersecurity, and the World Cup.

How do you see Qnbn's role in the realization of Qatar National Vision 2030?

Qnbn successfully deliver on its mandate and vision by providing a nationwide shareable network. Qnbn has enabled Qatar with a highly secure and unlimited bandwidth telecom infrastructure. Qnbn has increased the affordability of FTTh networks in the country and has also shortened the time to market in government preparation to offer smart services. Today, we cover 93 geographic zones in Qatar. Our network covers all major government and commercial buildings in the country. In addition, Qnbn's network is designed to help telecom service providers access all major Doha areas so that the country as a whole could benefit by having choice of service providers. As part of the strategy, Qnbn has been working closely with the government to identify an umbrella program called the Unified Government Network (UGN), which provides the infrastructure and fiber optics for all government departments to avoid any duplication of networks. We provide high-speed connectivity that allows users to run any application needed for smart government services and solutions. In addition, we can provide the entire infrastructure for special events, such as the 2022 FIFA World Cup. We are working with the government to fulfill all necessary requirement s to make Doha a smart city and Qatar, a smart nation. The fundamentals of all smart concepts today starts with the infrastructure. If we have fiber optics and high-speed infrastructure, it is easy to deploy and adopt smart solutions. That is why, Qnbn has focused on infrastructure deployment in Doha to provide smart solutions to all its citizens and for all the services including the World Cup 2022.

What is your assessment of the competitiveness of Qatar when it comes to its broadband infrastructure?

There are two networks in Qatar today. One belongs to Ooredoo, which provides all its services based on that network. Qnbn provides the other network for all other operators to create a great environment for competition to meet the needs of the government and avoid any duplication from overlapping networks. Qnbn has led the country in saving significant amounts of capex by avoiding the duplication of infrastructure and civil engineering works.

What benefits will the next generation fiber optics network bring to businesses and people of Qatar?

After installing the next generation fiber-optic infrastructure, we hope to have the ability to deliver to our customers the smart solutions and applications that may arise in the future. Qnbn's investment in the infrastructure today will enable the country to leverage smart solutions and applications that can help diversify Qatar's economy. These infrastructure improvements currently contribute 3.5-4% to our GDP, and our goal is for this figure to grow to 5-6% in the future.

How do you see Qnbn's role in creating a level playing field for operators in Qatar?

We do not compete with operators, but provide them with the infrastructure, which is the passive layer in this ICT equation. We want operators to compete based on their solutions and services. We proactively design our network to avoid duplication of network for all our customers. Given Qnbn's existing infrastructure, a new operator and/or an ISP can shorten time to market and focus on smart and customer-centric services, rather than investing time in developing their own network. This has helped the country in developing a “plug and play” telecom model. The best way for operators to compete is via quality and services, and not by forcing prices down.

How do you assess the progress that has been made with Qatar's digitization agenda?

The achievements to date have been great. Qnbn is monitoring the usage of digitization between government ministries and in private sector companies and SMEs, and subsequently tries to give the necessary support. We support smaller companies to shift to smarter solutions and to use digital technology in general. There are some smart services application packages available, and there are programs coming from the Ministry of Transportation and Communications to help SMEs. Qnbn provides whatever is needed in terms of the infrastructure. The percentage of SMEs in Qatar's economy is growing steadily.

What has been the impact of the blockade on Qatar's ICT sector?

As a company, we did not feel the effects because within the first 48 hours we secured all the raw materials and spare parts we needed for our network. We continued without any delay in our projects. Our projects today are performing even better than before because our teams have excellent external channels that allow us to continue our work without a break. There were certain ICT commitments within the GCC that were affected by the blockade on some occasions, though there were no major ICT projects going on within the GCC. We have numerous projects for smart solutions going on in Qatar now and have set a high benchmark to implement the smart city concept in Qatar.

The blockade has been a support to the idea that Qatar should be more self-sufficient. How do you see your own role in this regard?

Our first focus in this regard is to provide a secure network for the public sector. This will truly help the country with its vision for greater self-sufficiency. We have been well-organized in this task and have been integrating more ministries under the same secure network with high standards of cybersecurity and stability. This makes Qatar more confident in its ability to deal with any attacks because we are ready with the infrastructure and the systems.

What are your outlook and main objectives for 2019?

Through providing smart city concepts for the country and smart solutions and systems for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and Vision 2030, our role in Qatar in the coming year is critical. We are ready for any events coming up in the future and are able to provide the level of protection needed to ensure the public sector's ICT security. We are also working to improve the services we provide to upcoming government projects and systems. Our goal is to provide a secure and stable ICT environment in Qatar that is able to host all kinds of business and events. Although the World Cup is only on for a short time, we are looking at the businesses that might emerge for Qatar subsequently. We will ensure the continuity of business after the World Cup and see how we can engage more with international players who want to make investments and do business in Qatar. We want to use our current situation to our advantage as a country and provide the best environment for business so that international companies can use Qatar as a hub.