50% OF SAUDI POPULATION UNDER 25

Saudi Arabia 2018 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Fadi Kawar, CEO of Lebara Mobile, on MVNOs, Saudi Vision 2030, and collaboration with Huawei.

How have you positioned Lebara Mobile as mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) in the telecommunication landscape?

The Middle Eastern mobile markets have relatively high barriers to entry for MVNOs, though we have succeeded in capturing our market share nonetheless. We found a niche with our offering and have gathered a strong subscriber base. The frequent changes in the regulations in the Saudi telecommunications have not distracted us from our focus; it encouraged us to streamline our operations. Globally, our focus is to target migrant communities and Medium Low Income nationals with pay-as-you-go SIM cards, and that is how we started in 2014. Before entering the Saudi market, Lebara has experience in building a successful MVNO in eight countries, and we have the know-how to target the underserved segment of the market that we are in. Simplicity and trust are our core values, and we have built our entire business on these values.

How do you envision Lebara Mobile being part of the Kingdom's comprehensive transformation trajectory to diversify the economy?

Vision 2030 has opened up major opportunities for the technology sector, and we will certainly be part of this journey. Saudi Arabia is in a unique demographic position, with 50% of the population under 25 years old. The current leadership of the country is young as well, understands technology better, and wants to make a real change. With NEOM and the opening up of the entertainment industry, the Kingdom is set for a major transformation. This also means an influx of FDI into a broad range of sectors, as our economy grows more open and transparent. The total revenue of global telecommunications industry is anticipated to be almost EUR1.2 trillion by 2019, and Saudi Arabia has the highest mobile penetration, which means opportunities lie ahead. The coming years are all about offering differentiations to our customers, and as the country opens up, we explore new tools and partnerships to provide more products and services. Vision 2030 gives unique momentum to agile and dynamic companies to grow quickly and to serve customers better, and we want to be part of that wind of change.

How has your mobile virtual network enabler (MVNE), in collaboration with Huawei, advanced since its inception in 2016?

This was an excellent partnership and it has been great to see how it caught on and evolved. We are able to enter certain segments and issue new products quickly and effectively. It is mostly the speed of action with this platform that allows us to be more agile and dynamic.

How do you envision becoming more active in the domain of the Internet of Things (IoT)?

The Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) issued two public consultations, one related to relaxing regulations and the other on the intention to issue licenses called IoT-VNOs, which is an MVNO that specializes in the IoT business. These regulations will facilitate our IoT positioning as we already have the proper infrastructure and expertise to enter in this market.

What are your expectations of the telecommunication market in the coming years, especially with regard to data?

The opening up of VOIP communications has had a negative impact on our voice revenue, while it positively attributed to the data demand of our customers. The shift to data is a global, and similarly to our operations in other countries, we are building our projects and offerings around this, for example, free minutes along with data packages. IoT, along with other data-heavy mobile phone applications like video streaming and online gaming, will boost data demand in the years to come. For gaming, we are working on new partnerships.

What are your ambitions for the coming years?

We want to diversify and transform our telecoms business to align with vision 2030 requirements. The telecommunication industry is rapidly developing, and we want to ahead of the game. Telecommunications—voice and data—will remain our bread and butter for the time being, though we will explore and materialize all the opportunities to broaden our services. We strive to create new revenue streams and change the way we approach the market. We are an international brand with a national heart.