Interview: Hassan Kabbani
With the Kingdom’s telecoms market moving towards heavier mobile data usage, how can operators benefit from this shift?
HASSAN KABBANI: Given the size of the Saudi population and economy, there is every indication that the telecoms segment will continue to be very vibrant. The runaway success of broadband data services reflects this vibrancy, with Saudi Arabia having the highest percentage of Twitter users relative to its online population, as well as counting more than 100m views on YouTube per day. Many of these data sessions are taking place over mobile devices and through mobile networks.
Interestingly, Saudi Arabia is a world leader when it comes to Arabic content generation, both by amateurs and professionals. As an industry, it is clear that the role of the mobile operator is to connect the customer with content, and when I say connect, I mean much more than just bits and bytes. I also include the plethora of information about customer behaviours that we have that can be used to facilitate and inform the development of applications, which will drive future usage of our network. Working together across the industry, I am sure we can realise the dream of commercialising digital content and applications.
What does the expansion of mobile broadband to less-developed regions of the Kingdom mean for these areas? How is this being done?
KABBANI: Long-term evolution traffic has increased exponentially since its launch and is now on a par with 3G data traffic. There are two ways to enhance network capacity: increasing physical network capacity and improving network resource efficiency. Increasing physical network capacity has a one-to-one impact on capacity, while boosting network resource efficiency both raises capacity and improves the user’s experience. Both of these methods are being used throughout Saudi Arabia for the benefit of customers.
Even in built-up areas, customers are finding that 3G and 4G data services are a real alternative to fixed-line services. This is good news for residents of rural areas, because often fast wireless data service is available well in advance of the equivalent fixed-line alternatives. Research shows that wireless data services are much more affordable in the Kingdom than equivalent fixed-line alternatives.
How can further investments in the Kingdom’s telecoms infrastructure be done in a more efficient and collaborative manner?
KABBANI: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is very large geographically, and of course, the Kingdom’s telecoms infrastructure is a strategic national asset. In many countries mobile operators share towers and cell sites, and so improvements in overall capital efficiency are beneficial to these countries at a macroeconomic level. In Saudi Arabia, the opportunity remains for the government to lead the industry through improvements in efficiency. Increasing the capital productivity of domestic telecoms companies will mean that more funds are available for investment in new innovative services for the benefit of end-users.
To what extent have mobile services replaced fixed-line services as the dominant segment of the Kingdom’s telecoms sector?
KABBANI: Mobile telephony replaced fixed telephony for voice services many years ago. At the end of 2013, there were 51m mobile lines compared with 4.7m fixed lines in the Kingdom. Fixed-line services have been unsuccessfully trying to catch up with mobile services for over 10 years now. Mobile broadband subscriptions outnumbered fixed broadband subscriptions by nearly 5:1 at the end of 2013.
Customers are clearly choosing the convenience, speed and value for money that the latest high-technology mobile broadband connections offer when compared with fixed options. I believe the vast majority of customers will continue to choose a mobile broadband service that provides them with speed and freedom.
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