Interview: Talal Al Mamari

How is the ICT sector evolving in line with global trends, and what factors will lead to its success?

TALAL AL MAMARI: The telecommunications landscape has undergone a major transformation in recent years as firms in the sector have become increasingly intertwined with ICT. In line with the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and Vision 2040, a new ICT ecosystem of developers, suppliers and operators is being created in Oman. Such an ecosystem requires scalable connectivity infrastructure, not only locally but also globally. Omantel connects the sultanate through more than 20 subsea cables across five landing stations, in addition to investments in another seven cables, enabling our network to stretch across the world.

The advent of ICT excites us both as service providers and individuals, as it is improving our quality of life. Smart cities are a prime example of this. In such macro-level digital transformations, complex technology needs to be simplified and delivered alongside industries such as education, health care and research. Furthermore, the alignment of all government stakeholders is vital to ensure that digital initiatives and ecosystems are sustainable for decades to come.

In what ways is the ongoing rollout of 5G unique compared to that of previous wireless platforms?

AL MAMARI: 5G is unique among the previous networks in many ways. Previous wireless technologies were traditionally built around a use case. The increasing demand for customised products, as well as flexible production lines, can be seen as a trigger for the 4IR, and 5G is designed to offer the ultimate solution to its implementation requirements. The 5G network also offers advanced features that are flexible enough for an operator to create an entire virtual network.

5G technology will build on existing 4G access and core. When 4G and 3G were introduced, each had a standalone end-to-end architecture that offered a hard transition from one network to another. Conversely, 5G is offering a unique, efficient and smooth network transition.

To deliver 5G’s current and future capabilities, it will be necessary to build more sites, which will require operators to collaborate with various municipalities and city-planning entities. According to Omantel’s roadmap for 5G rollout, which was approved by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), we are set to target 2226 locations by 2024, based on the evolution of technology and market needs of key sectors such as logistics, education, health care, and oil and gas, which will each dictate and customise the rollout of individual 5G sites.

What are the key investment channels supporting the development of the ICT sector?

AL MAMARI: The State General Reserve Fund has traditionally been a strong channel for investment in the sector. In addition, in 2016 the Oman Investment Fund launched the Oman Technology Fund, which has been very successful in terms of attracting financing, particularly when it comes to venture capital. We are also looking to direct investment to universities to create diverse and innovative programmes for students.

While the country is largely connected through the mobile network, with 96.4% covered by 2G, 99.3% by 3G and 94.5% by 4G, there are rural and mountainous areas that are yet to be connected. We are working closely with the TRA and Oman Broadband Company to acquire investments for infrastructure-sharing solutions to address such challenges, which will help extend the reach of ICT services.

There is a growing interest in the Omani market from over-the-top players. We established a joint venture in July 2018 with US-based firm Equinix to create the Equinix Data Centre in Barka, where carriers and providers can co-locate ICT infrastructure. This will enable us to access global business ecosystems, and cloud, network, content and digital media providers.