Sheik Saud Bin Nasser Al Thani, chief executive officer at Ooredoo Qatar, discusses the company’s financial status and 4G opportunities in the country.
Ooredoo Qatar is offering 4G to its customers. What benefits will this service bring to the company and the customers?
Sheik Saud Bin Nasser Al Thani: Ooredoo launched the first 4G LTE network for Qatar in April 2013, and we have continued to expand our network and enhance the service to provide the biggest, fastest and best nationwide LTE service in Qatar. 4G is an enhanced service, providing some of the fastest network speeds that are 3-6 times faster than 3G. We now have full nationwide coverage across 4G-enabled devices, with 500 4G-enabled sites.
We recognise and understand the increasingly large role that the internet plays in day-to-day lives and are constantly working on enhancing our data offerings to meet the needs of our customers. On average, 4G customers consume 30% more data than 3G users — reflecting both the growing demand and need for advanced networks — and we’ve launch a range of new smart data packs to support consumers.
Ooredoo is also working hard to support the development of 'digital family life' through a new generation of products and services. This includes working with developers and designers to create new digital services that support the ambitions and aspirations of women, young people and families across Qatar.
We have kept the innovations coming.
In September 2014, we launched Qatar’s first 4G roaming service, ensuring that customers can continue to enjoy 4G speeds when they travel abroad.
Analysts and operators in the region are noticing that customers are requesting better quality of services. How will 4G improve the quality of the network? How are you going to promote 4G among your existing customers?
We are always striving to enhance our network, and a number of benchmark studies have shown that Ooredoo is providing one of the best networks not just in the region, but in the world.
We’ve found that 4G is having a positive impact for customers who use 3G and even 2G services, releasing bandwidth so that everyone can benefit from our investment.
In terms of promotion, the increase in smartphone penetration has contributed greatly to the adoption of 4G services and we are constantly innovating to be able to enhance our value propositions through bundles of call minutes and mobile data. Our launch of Smart Data Packs at the start of 2014 was one of the most successful launches of the year to date, and, as a global company, we have partnerships with a wide range of device manufacturers to ensure that the latest innovations are available.
Do you expect an increase in 4G devices sales?
We’re already seeing it. When it comes to mobile internet, faster is always better and devices that can adapt to faster network speeds and have better processing capabilities are going to be more popular.
As I said earlier, Ooredoo’s global footprint enables us to work closely with the world’s leading and most popular device-makers, and we can align these devices with Data Packs that are tailored to deliver the best possible experience. In recent months, we’ve launch the iPhone 6 Plus, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, and a wide range of BlackBerry devices — and these have all seen a strong response in the market.
Ooredoo’s 4G LTE network operates with a frequency of 800MHz-2600MHz and almost all smartphones being launched today are compatible with the network.
Technology and network innovations move in tandem and every enhancement is almost immediately met with another.
Ooredoo Group, in its latest financial results, announced good revenue from Ooredoo Qatar. What will be the main drivers of growth for Ooredoo Qatar in 2015? How are you going to maintain these results?
Ooredoo Qatar delivered very strong results in the last quarter, growing revenue and delivering increased market share from data services. Revenue was up by 9% year-on-year to QAR 5,286 million (9M 2013: QAR 4,860 million), while EBTIDA performance increased by 11% year-on-year to QAR 2,626 million. Consolidated customers increased by 8% to 3.0 million — so we hit this impressive milestone for the first time in our company’s history.
We’re going to continue to sustain these results by meeting the needs of our customers and out-performing our competitors. We’re developing our world-class network for Qatar, launching new services like Qatar’s first 4G Roaming service, and delivering an upgraded range of entertainment and digital services. Ooredoo Fibre continues to reach new customers, passing 298,000 homes and connecting 180,000 customers in the last quarter.
We’re also enhancing our support for Qatar’s dynamic business and enterprise sector, investing in leading-edge infrastructure to support B2B services, as well as enhancing mobile services for businesses.
Did Ooredoo Qatar experience growth in the enterprise sector? What new initiatives are you planning to launch to the market to improve your position in this sector?
Ooredoo has a long track record of working with Qatar’s leading enterprises, and we’re enhancing the range of services we provide for businesses. As a great recent example, we completed the first phase of our latest Qatar Data Centre — QDC5 — which is one of most advanced in the region.
It has recently received an ISO 22301 Certification — Business Continuity Management Systems (BCMS) accreditation that positions it as a global leader in Data Availability, Resiliency and Disaster Recovery. QDC5 offers a number of 'firsts' for Qatar, with a range of services that have not been made available previously. One of these is the introduction of intelligent patching in the data centre, providing complete visibility into the network infrastructure, enhanced productivity through automation, and reduced downtimes for hosted customers.
In another first, QDC5 also has an integrated sensor network that maximises energy efficiency through streamlined web-based management and allows control of the IP-based Intelligent LED lighting system in the facility.
Ooredoo data centres provide a full range of services including hosting and co-location, cloud services, web content delivery, data backup and restoration, business continuity and disaster recovery, infrastructure monitoring and management and IT security.
ARPU improvement was driven by increased contribution from postpaid customers and data. Do you expect more growth from these two drivers?
Data and postpaid services are likely to continue to grow in importance within Qatar, as the market continues to expand, smartphone penetration increases, and our customer base becomes increasingly sophisticated.
Our Shahry Postpaid service has been a huge success and is helping to shift the balance between pre and postpaid services. In addition, we’ve been able to win back a significant number of postpaid customers since the launch of mobile number portability in Qatar.
Do you think that the MEA region will meet the deadline that ITU set to harmonise region 1 spectrum?
I can only comment on the Qatar market, but I believe that we are facing and managing issues relating to spectrum extremely well in our country, Qatar.
What challenges is Ooredoo Qatar facing regarding roaming?
Roaming costs are usually dependent on international operators in the region and we work closely with them to manage overseas data and call rates across countries. We also help customers to manage their roaming requirements with the Ooredoo Passport that offers 100 call minutes and 2GB of data, valid for a week, at a feasible rate of QR100.
Applicable for travel to over 60 countries, the Ooredoo Passport is an example of services launched keeping the customer in mind and the challenges we are prepared to overcome to make them happen.
The launch of 4G LTE services is a great example of how we’re able to leverage our international presence to take the lead in roaming services.
How do you think that operators must face Over The Top players?
OTT service providers need us as much as we need them.
We provide the foundation infrastructure that makes their services possible; they are driving innovation in the industry that we need to learn and be part of. By inviting these next generation partners to work with us, we are developing a mutually-beneficial business model.
Operators should embrace the changes in data consumption patterns and evolve their offerings to meet the needs of the people, in partnership where necessary.
As a global group, we have the chance to learn from the other operating companies and share best practice. One example — we launched in Myanmar with Facebook packs that included free Facebook access with all data bundles in the market. Ooredoo is currently the leading Facebook network in the country, and successfully attracted one million customers within the first three weeks of launch.
ITU highlighted the relevance of M2M technologies and smart cites. How is Ooredoo Qatar going to contribute to these specific fields?
Ooredoo is taking the lead in Smart Cities and M2M technology, recognising our responsibility to help make Qatar the best-connected nation in the world. We are already working with the developers of Qatar’s leading megaprojects to help deliver Smart City technology. We have signed a strategic alliance with KT Corporation of Korea to develop joint solutions for a new generation of Smart Cities in Qatar.
In addition, we have launched long-term integrated management solutions, to enable developers to fully manage development operations and extend a range of value-added services for businesses and residents of the new developments.
We also recently launched enhanced Machine to Machine (M2M) services, which enable businesses to use the bigger and faster Ooredoo network to connect all of their different systems and devices and to automate daily tasks.
The cutting-edge Ooredoo M2M service enables companies to connect business assets so that they communicate directly with each other or with a central command centre, removing the need for human involvement.
This process supports automation across a range of industries, delivers greater efficiency and has a range of applications in logistics, ‘Smart Cities’, ‘Smart Stadia’, health, and across other sectors.
Ooredoo is already working with a number of leading enterprises in Qatar to support M2M services, offering a range of bespoke solutions to enable fleet management, remote monitoring and full automation.