Interview: Salim Al Ozainah

How is the government encouraging Kuwait’s digital transformation, and what benefits can citizens expect to see from these efforts?

SALIM AL OZAINAH: The overarching aims of the New Kuwait 2035 vision is to transform the country into an international commercial and trade hub, and help meet the goal of sustainable development with digital transformation at the heart of this strategy. Kuwait is exerting great effort in this regard on all fronts, including by adopting best practices, partnering with leading institutions worldwide, engaging the public sector and encouraging human development. CITRA believes that the cornerstone of this transformation is the people of Kuwait, and the authority is working with pioneers in cloud computing and the digital economy to transfer knowledge and share experiences. We want to nurture top talent and create an intelligent generation that supports the vision of the digital economy in Kuwait.

What is being done to increase Kuwait’s share of global bandwidth traffic?

AL OZAINAH: Growth in demand, price erosion and shifts in availability are all creating challenges for the international bandwidth market. Bandwidth demand in the Middle East has grown by 45%, and there is a concern about the availability and reliability of connectivity as the internet becomes the backbone of local economies worldwide.

The MENA region is served mainly through submarine cables routed through the Suez Canal; however, this poses a significant risk due to the heavy shipping traffic that can damage cables. To address challenges, CITRA is working to diversify sources of connectivity for our neighbours and countries around the world by improving the regulatory framework and licensing system. This will lower the cost of connectivity throughout Kuwait and ensure that global service providers have access to key co-location infrastructure and transnational connectivity to and from Kuwait. We are in the process of establishing the Kuwait Corridor, which will serve as a new pathway for global bandwidth extending from Kuwait to Europe, effectively placing us in the middle of international traffic. Kuwait will be ideal as a centre for global bandwidth traffic as our net neutrality stance allows us to freely distribute bandwidth throughout the region and beyond.

Our initial targets are to service 10% of regional bandwidth requirements and improve route diversity. This will provide the region with new alternative terrestrial connectivity paths to the internet and mitigate the current risks. Our intention is to move Kuwait from a net consumer of international bandwidth to a net exporter of digital traffic.

In what ways has the privatisation of telecoms assets been approached, and how much interest has it seen from investors?

AL OZAINAH: Kuwait recognised the importance of liberalising telecoms services and assets early on, and the country was one of the first in the region to privatise the sector. Since its inception, CITRA has continued to create a favourable environment for investment in the ICT industry. Today, all three operators have substantial foreign ownership and major international footprints in countries across the region. The ICT sector continues to grow in importance and has become a major driver of economic growth in Kuwait. The market has also been active with major acquisitions between operators and internet service providers since 2017. In addition, the introduction of a process in July 2019 to grant mobile virtual network operator licenses will improve the utilisation of existing infrastructure and scarce resources as well as create new wholesale markets. It is expected to encourage competition and provide more price options for the end user.