Interview: Eaman Al Roudhan

As telecoms firms adapt to the new regulatory authority, what are the most important aspects of the regulator’s initial strategic plan?

EAMAN AL ROUDHAN: The most important aspect for any regulator, especially in Kuwait, is to come up with workable strategies that enhance public and private partnerships. The development of an independent regulator in Kuwait is relatively new, but we now have the Communications and Information Technology Regulatory Authority (CITRA). While it will take time to find its feet, there are plenty of opportunities where immediate improvements can be made. Effective policy can send a positive signal to investors that it is possible to enhance the prospects for the telecoms sector at the same time as removing a large burden from the state, especially at this time of reduced oil prices.

Even with its mature telecoms market, Kuwait has been unable to achieve the successes seen in similar markets around the globe. The liberalisation of the telecoms market should be a strategic priority for CITRA. Most of the telecoms infrastructure is held by the government: the international gateway, fibre-optic cables, the local transport network and international access. Kuwait is blessed with a location that allows it to connect Asia and the Middle East with submarine cables, but the market is limited in its capacity to do so because the government owns and operates the landing stations. These are the sort of strategic advantages we need to capitalise on in order to enhance the sector regionally and globally.

To what extent will the new regulatory authority benefit the telecoms sector?

AL ROUDHAN: One of the first priorities should be to tackle licensing issues, because an established market with mature offerings and high penetration demands this. Telecoms operators around the globe are facing threats from other models, such as over-the-top and voice-over-IP services. Right now anyone with a commercial licence can offer their services in the sector. This is causing an unnecessary price war, diminishing our ability to invest in better infrastructure and provide a better quality of service for our customers. Investments into the sector need to be protected.

Initial discussions with the new regulator have been positive, and we are confident that they will provide a framework that is commensurate with the maturity of the telecoms and IT sector itself, and will be able to handle the pressing issues.

Does Kuwait have the necessary infrastructure capacity in place to roll out 4.5G mobile broadband technology? How have initial tests fared?

AL ROUDHAN: All three private mobile operators have the capability to launch 4.5G mobile broadband services, and successful tests have been carried out to prove this. However, in terms of infrastructure we are limited by spectrum, which we hope the authorities will grant us more access to. It was forecast at the World Radio Communication Conference in 2015 that Kuwait’s broadband data usage targets for 2020 had already been met and exceeded in 2015. This demonstrates the need for mobile telecoms operators to be allocated additional bandwidth if they are to be able to continue to provide quality services to customers.

In addition, the national fibre network is poor and that is down to several things, including a growing population and poor state management of infrastructure. Furthermore, the high penetration rate of smartphones means that there is an imbalance, where 80% of the market runs over the wireless broadband network and just 20% over the fixed broadband network. This is the opposite of the model seen in most developed countries.