Interview: Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Saud Al Thani

To what extent is the long-term sustainability of the industry, particularly revenue growth, reliant on a steady stream of technological innovation?

SHEIKH ABDULLAH BIN MOHAMMED BIN SAUD AL THANI: Technological innovation has always played a very significant role in the fast-paced communications industry, and it is only going to increase in importance. Currently, approximately 30% of the world’s youth are digital natives, meaning that they grew up with strong information and communications technology (ICT) experience, according to figures from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the UN agency specialising in ICT. Over the next five years, that figure is expected to double to around 60% of the world’s youth being digital natives. Therefore, it is imperative to continually be innovative to meet such growing demand.

With mobile telephone access universal, is fixedline investment likely to steadily reduce? How much of a factor is ADSL internet access?

SHEIKH ABDULLAH: While there are almost as many mobile phone subscriptions as there are people in the world, with the ITU projecting 6.8bn mobile subscriptions by the end of 2013, internet access remains a key area with high growth potential.

Worldwide, approximately 4.4bn people are not yet online, and only half of the world is currently covered by a 3G mobile broadband network with internet access, according to the ITU. Consequently, we view mobile broadband and fixed-line broadband as complementary services that deliver the highest level of connectivity and reliability.

We are rolling out fibre for homes and businesses in Qatar, Oman, Tunisia and Indonesia, providing speeds that are up to 10 times faster than the current ADSL copper-wire line. Our roll-out to homes has contributed to Qatar becoming a leading fibre nation. The country posted the world’s fastest rollout of fibre in the world in 2012, as we passed 32% of total homes and connected 14% of total homes.

We are continuing to roll out fibre zone by zone across Qatar, to reach the largest number of people possible. We also recently launched fibre for businesses, which is making an impact on the business communities in Qatar, Oman, Tunisia and Indonesia.

In what ways do you think the implementation of 4G in Qatar might have an impact on the local telecommunications industry?

SHEIKH ABDULLAH: The launch of 4G in Qatar took place in April 2013 and has seen an incredible response so far. It is three- to six-times faster than the existing 3G network, enabling seamless connections when browsing multimedia-rich websites, updating social media, streaming HD music and video, and transferring large files.

Since the launch, we have been rolling out 4G across Qatar. We have doubled network coverage and are well on our way of meeting our goal of covering all inhabited areas with 4G by the end of 2014. More than just enhancing customer experience, 4G will boost Qatar’s knowledge-based economy in line with the country’s National ICT Plan 2015 and Qatar National Vision 2030, which seek to make Qatar one of the best-connected countries in the world.

How strong is the argument that the success of 4G roll-out is dependent on the uptake of increasingly sophisticated devices?

SHEIKH ABDULLAH: As smartphones continue to become more affordable and sophisticated, we are seeing a strong demand for data from our customers across the board, which we expect is only going to increase in the years to come. Mobile broadband penetration continues to post strong worldwide growth, rising by approximately 40% annually between 2010 and 2013, according to the ITU. While almost the whole world now has mobile network coverage, only about half of the world is currently covered by a mobile broadband 3G or 4G network.