Qatar ranks 27th worldwide in networked readiness.     (Source: Global Information Technology Report 2016) Qatar ranks 27th worldwide in networked readiness. (Source: Global Information Technology Report 2016)

A relatively small size has never hindered Qatar’s telecom market from keeping things interesting. It happens to be one of the most progressive markets in the region. With two operators and its own satellite operator, the market has been quite an epicentre of innovation as much as hype. Qatar recently became a pioneer in the GCC to have introduced a data privacy law. The law has provisions related to the rights of individuals to protect their personal data. This applies strictly to electronically acquired or processed data. Businesses will also need to adhere to certain responsibilities regarding data protection; for example, it wouldn’t be allowed to send direct marketing message to individuals without obtaining prior consent from them.

On the hype front, the recent launch of Virgin Mobile in the UAE by EITC under a brand licensing agreement brought back memories of the day when Richard Branson had jet skied into Doha to launch Virgin Mobile Qatar as a new brand over the network of Qtel(now Ooredoo Qatar). However, objections raised by Vodafone Qatar about the apparently unclear positioning of Virgin Mobile in the market led to the regulatory body finally ordering the closure of all Virgin Mobile branded operations in the State.

With gradually increasing contribution to the national GDP year over year, telecom sector has become an enabler of the economic diversification of the Qatar market outside of oil and gas. Across the region, the IT services market is growing nearly twice as fast as the traditional telecoms connectivity sector. In spite of the economic uncertainties created by lower oil prices, companies are continuing to seek improved efficiency, better communication and enhanced productivity by deploying the latest technologies.

The market has two telecom operators namely Ooredoo Qatar and Vodafone Qatar; with the former older player continuing to have the greater market share. Ooredoo was formally designated as a dominant service provider in 14 markets inside Qatar according to CRA Qatar’s market definition and dominance designation (MDDD) review, published in October 2016. Vodafone Qatar ended up being a dominant service provider only in two markets inside the State.

CRA formulated a competition framework in 2015, which was socialised in 2016, and the process will continue in 2017 as well so that all stakeholders are on the same page. Moreover, CRA is actively developing an implementation plan for competition policy that focuses on areas where competition would have the greatest impact on growth and innovation.

Keeping in line with the Qatar National Vision 2030, QNBN (Qatar National Broadband Network) is working towards connecting the whole country with a robust fibre optic network. QNBN in 2016 was able to connect 97 new sites across the state, a growth of 62% of the total sites that have been connected in the past years (Source: MOTC). The company also completed 184 connection projects with a growth of 42% compared to previous years. The optical fibre lines installed during the past year reached 600 km, showing a growth rate of 50% compared to the numbers of 2013 to make a total of 3950 km, representing 150% increase from the past years.

According to a new report from Arthur D. Little in November 2016, Qatar is one of the world’s leading fibre nations, with 99 per cent of households in areas covered by Ooredoo Fibre. Over the last twelve months, both the operators in Qatar have attempted in their own unique ways to provide better services to customers. Staying true to being the dominant operator in the market, Ooredoo Qatar has done a lot of upgrades to its Supernet network as well as its business and entertainment offerings; while Vodafone Qatar has taken another route and resorted to banking on the strength and expertise of its global IoT platform to position itself as the apt IoT partner for companies in the region.

One of the most exciting achievements of Ooredoo Qatar was the recent live demo of 5G-enabled robotics on the National Day in collaboration with Nokia. The demo recorded the performance of 5G by programming three industrial robots to complete the simple task of balancing a ball on a platform and connecting them via 5G. It was observed that the robots took just a fraction of the second to find a balance point, significantly faster and more smoothly than when they used a 4G network. Moreover, as a result of the 5G network’s low latency and high-speeds, the robots were able to communicate with each other in real-time to complete the task. Waleed Mohammed Ebrahim Al-Sayed, CEO of Ooredoo Qatar said: “For Qatar National Day, we wanted to celebrate the achievements of Qatar’s founders and also look forward to the future, at the new accomplishments that the people of Qatar will realise. This demonstration shows not only the speed and latency of 5G networks, but also the types of solutions and technology that will become available in Qatar as we become a truly ‘smart nation’.”

Not one to stay behind, Vodafone Qatar and Qatar Mobility Innovations Centre (QMIC) launched their partnership in providing Fleet Management service, a telematics service designed to track and perform logistics management for companies aiming to enhance productivity and tackle road safety issues. The service utilises Vodafone’s global IoT platform. “We are confident that our global expertise in IoT solutions and in delivering fleet management services coupled with QMIC’s locally engineered innovations and knowledge will eliminate challenges companies in Qatar face in managing their fleet of vehicles. Ultimately this service will improve productivity, improve safety and significantly reduce costs,” said Ian Gray, CEO, Vodafone Qatar.

Entertainment has been a key focus area for Ooredoo Qatar. Last year, Qatar became the first country in the region and the third worldwide to offer a commercial 4K service and launch the latest in home entertainment services via the new Ooredoo TV service. The service which combines apps with on-demand and live TV in one easy-to-use box, uses advanced fibre and Wi-Fi technology. Since then, the operator has entered into several collaborations with leading media and content provider companies to build a versatile portfolio for its subscribers.

Another exciting saga was sparked off in 2016 in Qatar with a soft launch of Voice over LTE (VoLTE) network by Ooredoo Qatar. VoLTE will enable customers to make crystal clear HD voice calls over the 4G data network and provide faster call setup. They will also be able to browse the internet on the 4G network while still on a call – the first time they have been able to do this. To provide these benefits to the end users, Ooredoo is working with device manufacturers on a pipeline of VoLTE devices to ensure that VoLTE-enabled smartphones are certified and available in Qatar.

The FIFA World Cup in 2020 and National Vision 2030 are guiding the development of Qatar’s infrastructure on various fronts. There’s a huge potential to monetise the investments made with a proper combination of right technology and manpower. The target is to transform Qatar into a digitally connected, knowledge-based economy. It would be worth the watch to observe the transformation of the State with its ambitious operators, a forward looking regulator and digitally inclined citizens.