Interview: Abdulaziz Al Sugair
More rural areas are now receiving 3G and 4G coverage. How is this helping to further integrate these regions into the national economy?
ABDULAZIZ AL SUGAIR: Technology helps to bridge the digital divide and bring the power of communication to everyone. The benefits of services such as 3G and 4G are well known, researched and documented in terms of their socio-economic impact.
The purpose of fast roll-outs to all areas of the Kingdom therefore is to bring those benefits to the entire population and ensure that telecommunication services provide greater access and inclusion.
In terms of affordability, Saudi Arabia’s competitive market has helped reduce costs. Further, with the introduction of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), we can expect to see additional price rationalisations.
Another point to consider is the government effort to extend telecoms infrastructure to non-profitable areas. The industry regulator has created the Universal Service Fund to subsidise telecoms operators and deploy voice and data services to rural localities with the support of key performance indicators.
Given the heavily saturated mobile market, what role do you see fixed-line communications playing?
AL SUGAIR: Although at a global level the fixed-line market has been seen as more of a shrinking segment, it remains important in Saudi Arabia. The key strategy underpinning the fixed-line segment is the same as for the mobile segment, specifically continuous infrastructure upgrades coupled with new innovations in line with customer expectation. One example of the growing interest in fixed-line communication is fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) technology, which has turned out to be immensely popular. Although we are taking steps to accelerate the process of rolling out FTTH, demand continues to exceed supply.
With the advent of FTTH infrastructure, entire housing compounds and office complexes are moving towards acquiring this technology. While package bundling has in the recent past been quite popular, it is important to understand that people may want to utilise one service and not be interested in another. Considering the growing popularity of broadband, we have decided to de-link connectivity with call solutions.
In what way can the public and private sectors cooperate in order to develop the capacity and quality of the local telecommunications sector?
AL SUGAIR: With the advent of technologies such as mobile banking, mobile health and many other similar services, the telecommunications industry has transformed from being a provider of connectivity to a provider of solutions. The public and private sector share the vision of increased digitisation and various other services across the country. The introduction of the e-government model is one step in this process. Telecoms groups are thus playing an important role by ensuring the availability of modern infrastructure and services that will form the cornerstone of new technology. Efforts are also being made to enhance collaboration with the government in order to help fast track the digitisation of services and the economy.
What impact is the growing number of MVNOs having on the Kingdom’s mobile broadband industry?
AL SUGAIR: There are many ways to evaluate the entry of MVNOs into the Saudi market. For the most part it also depends upon the regulatory model that has been defined. Some may see the arrival of MVNOs as a threat to existing mobile network operators, given that the market is already highly competitive. However, there is also the possibility of increased focus on newer services and reaching new customer segments which may not have been financially viable otherwise.
The introduction of MVNOs is a healthy sign demonstrating the strength of Saudi Arabia’s telecoms market. We will continue to work independently as well as in conjunction with MVNOs to deliver the highest level of service to customers within the Kingdom.
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