The Fibre to the Home and Building (FTTH/B) average penetration rate in the MENA region has reached 41.5%, while UAE leads the market at 67.7 %, according to the latest FTTH MENA Panorama study. Ebrahim Al Haddad, ITU regional director of the Arab States, believes that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are also notable markets in the region and set Oman as a country that is establishing the basis to go forward.
“One of the elements for a successful FTTX deployment is the right environment. We should promote the engagement between non-traditional players in the environment of the fibre,” Al Haddad said.
He also commented that FTTH should not be everywhere because it is an expensive deployment and operators need to consider the offering and the utilisation that they can attract after investing. In order to offer a similar service, the ITU is working to find alternatives to fibre deployment and Al Haddad pointed out that copper is part of the solution.
The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG)have set a common strategy with the ITU and its members to achieve regional connectivity, as Al Haddad explained.
“We have to work with them [Arab countries and CCASG] to connect the region. Because of the shared values that we have in the region; the shared language, the shared background, we feel that the Arab countries under the lead of the Arab league got a vision of a greater market, the greater Arab market, with business of all sorts, including the telecom business sector,” he commented.
This regional cooperation in the telecom sector is seen when countries share best practices and organise training programmes to promote knowledge among new engineers. “We choose and select certain entities to do seminars on policy, regulation, financial issues [related to telecoms]. With these centres of excellence we provide specific answers to specific needs.”
“My personal vision will consist of having major players sponsoring young engineers. An operator might need those engineers one day. So for me, it is a long term investment,” he added.
Knowledge sharing is also suggested by regulators in the region when deploying FTTB/H, as many countries did not have the chance to deploy it because of political unrest or lack of initial investment and they need to know how to adapt the market to these investments. “Regulators should learn from their neighbours. They should look at similar economies and follow their steps.”
Al Haddad also highlighted that the regulator is not as fast as the technology. “It makes development slower sometimes. You need to go through approvals, parliament, and many other steps and by the time it is approved, it is too old.”
“FTTH should be developed through a single entity that provides the connectivity and the infrastructure. This entity will enable other organisations to offer the service. Competition should be in the service market. Moreover, these entities need to follow a government policy and a government perspective as they need to serve the citizens’ needs, as the company should not exploit the country,” Al Haddad commented.
By providing connectivity in rural areas with fibre, population migration processes from remote zones to urban areas can be reverse, he said. “I want to reverse the internal migration that happens in a country. You have people that come from villages to cities because they have no jobs. By having connectivity in the rural areas we are boosting them and we can reverse this internal migration process.”
ITU recommends a business model that separates the network company and the service companies and Al Haddad believes that depending on the country, the network company should be public or private.
“I believe this region is working together on connectivity. It is an important goal that needs to be addressed by all the operators. We need to sell the region to an international arena,” he added.