Interview: Salim Sultan Al Ruzaiqi

How does the regulatory framework of the information and communications technology (ICT) sector promote competitiveness among players?

SALIM SULTAN AL RUZAIQI: Oman is committed to achieving international standards across the ICT sector. The ITA is creating a competitive environment, having established the Oman eGovernment Architecture Framework (OeGAF). With the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) working on regulatory capacity, the combined efforts allow Oman’s ICT segment to be competitive. OeGAF is technology agnostic, which lets investors choose where to invest by comparing costs and policies within the market. Oman is very advanced and considered extremely competitive with regard to policy and openness to foreign telecoms operators, as well as smaller investors like internet service providers (ISPs). These groups are typically restricted elsewhere, but in Oman ISPs and other operators can provide independent services without huge capital outlays or having to partner with the large national telecoms providers, creating a truly competitive market for the consumer.

In what ways is ITA promoting growth of the ICT sector at both the global and local levels?

AL RUZAIQI: The major initiative undertaken to create a digital society in Oman is Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM). KOM allows firms, both local and international, to set up an ICT company and operate independently. The process for starting a business in KOM is expedited with a one-stop-shop approach, and many global companies like Cisco, Microsoft and Oracle have made Oman a strategic gateway for the region. The ITA also fosters the capabilities of our young human resource base through partnerships with the ministries of higher education and manpower, so as to focus curriculum and training using the most up-to-date technologies and software. Part of the ITA’s mandate is to create jobs and opportunities for business growth, particularly with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the youth. The ITA has sent SME owners to Singapore for workshops and other local forums that engage students and introduce them to international best practices and ways of operating smaller tech companies. ICT is an enabler, and anybody with specialised skills in this field is highly employable – not only in Oman, but also abroad – and our existing partnerships with international companies operating here are invaluable.

How is ICT expansion being used to promote development across the sultanate?

AL RUZAIQI: The National PC initiative, which provides a laptop, training and free internet access for one year, has been an excellent programme targeting ICT penetration across the sultanate. There are several contracted training institutes and retailers across Oman that participate in this programme, creating a multiplier effect in terms of business development in ICT. This initiative is particularly helpful in imparting skills that drive growth among people in rural areas. The initiative has provided over 57,000 modems and SIM cards, and we have seen mobile, internet and PC use increase substantially. The new e-government strategy aims to have 80% of all transactions and payments completed online, which will bring more Omanis into the future economy. All sectors are driven by ICT, and if we focus on developing the right skills and inviting the right companies to invest, this will drive an economy that creates jobs, supports SMEs and solidifies Oman’s place in the global business network. The high level of cross-border and cross-cultural business transactions in Oman mean that the country can become the regional ICT centre.

The Oman Broadband Infrastructure Company was set up to allow all service providers to plug into the fibre-optic cable that is being laid. Mobile broadband spectrum was released and is being utilised to foster greater competition and allow major providers to increase network capacity to 4G while reducing costs to the end user. The opening of voice over internet protocol in 2012 has also been a big step towards making it cheaper and more efficient to conduct business in Oman globally.