Interview: Salim Al Ozainah
What have you identified as the most important priorities of the new regulatory authority?
SALIM AL OZAINAH: Immediately following the commencement of CITRA’s operations on February 2, 2016, work began on several priority areas. Among the most important roles the regulatory authority will take is to implement the privatisation of telecoms infrastructure previously under the purview of the Ministry of Communications. Four services that have been handled by the government, namely international voice exchanges, landing stations for international marine cables, fixed-line services and the backbone infrastructure, are now in the process of being privatised, and CITRA is currently conducting the planning phase using regional and global case studies in order to successfully make the transition.
A second major focal point is the establishment of a national broadband network. At present, each ministry and public department in Kuwait handles their own network including routers, connections and all other services, each derived from their own legacy systems. It is essential to integrate these separate networks under one responsible department, and ensure that all public sector representatives use a connected network of the same standard in order to achieve the so-called “e-government” system.
A third priority, in line with the theme of integration, is to establish a new, private holding company to manage Kuwait’s telecoms towers. The current three telecoms operators in the nation all use their own towers without any shared infrastructure. There is great interest from both investors and the public to collect this infrastructure for management under one or two independent entities, which will result in cost savings for the consumer and greater quality of service from the operators.
New housing being developed in the more remote areas of Kuwait, such as the South Al Mutlaa City Project, will require costly infrastructure, and we believe that telecoms development coming from investors on behalf of the operators will prove more efficient.
Lastly, CITRA is looking to implement the concept of the “Kuwait Hub” to increase the global bandwidth travelling through the nation. Major transit hubs in the GCC currently include Fujairah in the UAE, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and stations in Oman, but we see no reason that Kuwait cannot increase its role. While only 3% of total global bandwidth currently passes through the Middle East due to the limited routes available, in the long term we would like to see Kuwait receive at least 20% of the traffic moving from Iraq and Iran to Europe as these economies grow and become more globally connected.
How do you view the benefits inherent to independent regulation for Kuwait’s ICT sector?
AL OZAINAH: Telecoms innovation in Kuwait requires a culture change, and independent operation and regulation is the way to achieve this. At present, Kuwaiti citizens and residents must physically travel to their relevant ministry in order to take care of any public services. In this day and age of technology, streamlining these processes is economically crucial.
While there is resistance to this shift both from within and outside of the government, and while policies will take time to implement, the ultimate goal is to create awareness in order for both the government and the public at large to embrace technology and for humanised services to go digital. This is a challenging exercise, but one that is needed. While Kuwait is a small nation, we possess strong technology, evidenced by the fact that our mobile penetration is among the highest in the world as is the quality of service, but the lack of technology adoption on the government’s part hampers competitiveness. In addition to the operational efficiency of privatisation, an independent regulator can merge public and private sector interests for the benefit of the sector.
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