Interview: Talal Al Mamari

What needs to be done to ensure that ICT growth prospects translate into opportunities for local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)?

TALAL AL MAMARI: The digital ecosystem is impacting many aspects of the economy and especially SMEs, which are active consumers of technology. Many start-ups – most notably those operating in the field of technology – are making use of the available ecosystem to provide solutions with significant commercial potential.

Local SMEs are utilising innovative services, products and methods to differentiate themselves in an evolving market. In this sense, Oman is focused on capitalising on the potential of technological advancements, such as the expansion of the 5G network. To this end, SMEs need to be agile enough to maximise the use of 5G and take advantage of the untapped potential in the market. Another way in which SMEs can benefit is by engaging with larger companies. By collaborating with SMEs, these entities can leverage their expertise and perspective, while providing opportunities to their smaller partners. This can result in innovative solutions that better meet the needs of the market.

Where do you identify emerging investment opportunities in the data centre market?

AL MAMARI: 5G and data centres are essential to the ICT ecosystem. Bearing this in mind, Oman began to roll out 5G technology in 2019 to provide high-speed broadband services to consumers and SMEs. Oman is beyond the conventional use of data centres, with growth seen in cloud computing and cybersecurity.

National strategies have developed data centres for domestic and international use that leverage the connectivity available through landing stations. Oman has the MC1 data centre in Muscat, the first carrier-neutral data centre in MENA, and SN1 in Salalah, making it well positioned to serve the Horn of Africa and East Africa, as well as the GCC. This has resulted in a well-connected ecosystem involving many carriers in the region, as well as global partnerships with content providers. It is in this context that Oman is building an ecosystem that will connect Africa to the Middle East and Europe.

How do you view the role of the ICT sector in realising Oman Vision 2040 goals and transforming the country into a regional digital leader?

AL MAMARI: The Covid-19 pandemic proved how vital the ICT sector is, as digital technologies enabled and empowered businesses and individuals to cope with pandemic-related challenges. ICT impacts many aspects of society, and it is essential to develop the ecosystem to enhance knowledge and build capacity in a way that can transform both the public and private sectors. Sustained investment in smart digital technologies, including cloud computing, cybersecurity and blockchain – in addition to sector-specific policies and strategies tailored towards talent development, and capacity and knowledge building – will help create an ICT ecosystem that furthers the objectives of Vision 2040.

Oman is on the path to becoming a digital leader in the region, as evidenced by its accomplishments within the ICT sector over the last decade. In 2022 Omantel delivered projects such as providing ICT solutions to the government, moving a major bank entirely to the cloud and leveraging 5G for smart traffic control. Oman has managed to connect and integrate itself into the global digital ecosystem, investing around $1bn in submarine cable systems to connect it with Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa through more than 20 subsea cable systems and more than six landing stations. Thanks to these investments, Omantel was able to establish a joint venture with Equinix to build the MC1 and SN1 data centres. Additionally, Amazon Web Services has chosen Oman as the location for its first local zone hosting cloud and data services in the MENA region. The country’s advanced level of digital infrastructure and its continued development is supported by government incentives targeting utilities, as well as tax exemptions.