Oman is looking to strengthen its position as a digital services leader in the region, with a series of new developments designed to bolster the ICT sector.
As one of the 10 new royal decrees issued by Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said on October 14, the new Ministry of Technology and Communications will assume control over telecom policies and legislation, bringing further clarity to the direction of the sector.
In addition to this new decree, a series of other developments are shaking up the sector.
On July 21 it was announced that Oman Data Park, a data centre located just outside of Muscat, would be collaborating with US tech companies Microsoft and Cisco to deploy Microsoft Azure Stack solutions in its facilities.
This builds on news from last year that Oman Telecommunications had entered into a joint venture with US multinational Equinix to open a data centre in the city of Barka.
The site will establish the first carrier-neutral hub in Oman, allowing carriers, content providers and cloud providers to co-locate critical IT infrastructure.
Capitalising on Oman’s location between Asia, Africa and Europe, the data centre aims to create a regional interconnection centre for global businesses. As part of the Platform Equinix, it joins a network of 200 other data centres with access to an ecosystem of 2900 cloud providers, 1700 network providers, and 800 content and digital media providers.
Recent developments have similarly occurred on the mobile telecoms front, with Vodafone set to enter the market as the third mobile operator in 2020.
The development has been broadly welcomed by industry figures. “The entry of a third mobile network will make the telecommunications sector more agile,” Said Al Mandhari, CEO of Oman Broadband Company, told OBG.
Monther Al Mamari, CEO of data2cloud, was similarly receptive to the idea of a new mobile competitor. “The entry of Vodafone as the third operator will bring something new and fresh to the market. It is an international company that knows the game, as it has entered and disrupted other markets in the past,” he told OBG.
See also: The Report – Oman 2019
In addition to boosting cloud- and business-oriented data and telecoms services, Oman has sought to strengthen its cybersecurity capabilities.
Officials have outlined plans to create a new cybersecurity company with a focus on three key areas: managing security services, cybercrime analysis, and cybersecurity services such as security incident management and security consultancy.
It is hoped that this could trigger the development of a domestic cybersecurity industry – increasingly seen as a priority in the region following high-profile data breaches at large public outfits, including energy giant Saudi Aramco in 2012-13.
According to a recent report from IBM Middle East and Africa, the average per incident cost of data breaches in the Middle East was $3.1m, close to the global average of $3.5m, which was up 15% last year alone.
On September 22 the Public Authority for Privatisation and Partnership signed a deal with French company Thales to further develop cyber-solutions and training at the Advanced Cybersecurity Academy.
The academy is a national training body designed to improve skills and knowledge around various cyber-related themes.
Recent investment in cybersecurity has had a significant impact on the level of protection in the country, with Oman ranked 16th in the world – and second in the region – in the most recent Global Cybersecurity Index, released by the UN’s International Telecommunication Union.
Highlighting its effectiveness in combatting cyberthreats, the government’s Information Technology Authority (ITA), in its 2018 annual report, found that Oman thwarted some 2.6bn attacks and malicious attempts to damage government services and systems last year.
“Over the last four years Oman has been very proactive in creating public awareness of the importance of strengthening cybersecurity. In addition, there have been significant efforts to push for the creation of an independent entity to administer cybersecurity, and this remains one of the highest priorities in the sector," Salim Al Ruzaiqi, CEO of the ITA, told OBG.
ICT key to diversification plans
Ongoing improvements in digital services align with broader government plans to diversify the economy away from hydrocarbons. Given that ICT accounts for only 2.1% of GDP, according to government statistics, officials have highlighted the sector as one with significant growth potential.
Earlier this year the Oman ICT Group was formed, bringing together various sector players under the auspices of the State General Reserve Fund, the biggest of Oman’s sovereign wealth funds. The group has been tasked with developing an integrated national ICT strategy, and is soon to begin consultations with stakeholders.
Al Mandhari told OBG, "The newly established ICT Group will reinforce Oman's well-developed fibre and tower networks, which already provide strong connectivity and are capable of supporting the rapid introduction of 5G."
In mid-August the government outlined a OR100m ($260m) plan to help jump-start growth in the sector. The plan features 11 initiatives based on three main areas: hardware and software; services; and enablers.
The investment is designed to create as many as 2280 direct jobs and more than 9000 on-the-job training opportunities for Omanis before 2024.