With plans to invest some $200 million in mission-critical LTE and TETRA technologies in the 2016, and a further $500 million in the next few years, Saudi Arabian push-to-talk operator Bravo has no shortage of ambition. Dr. Fahad Bin Hussain Bin Mushayt, who became CEO of Bravo at the start of the year, tells CommsMEA how the company intends to chart a growth course in mission-critical communications.
Push -to-talk services often fall below the radar in terms telecoms investment, with consumer services such as mobile broadband dominating telecoms headlines. But this situation belies the importance of mission-critical telecoms services – and the rapid developments taking place in this important niche part of the telecoms industry.
Bravo, the provider of mission-critical push-to-talk services in Saudi Arabia, offers a prime example. The company, which provides services to emergency services and numerous industries including oil and gas, epitomises the technological transformation taking in the P2T sector, and the many opportunities this opens up for commercial growth.
For Dr. Fahad Bin Hussain Bin Mushayt, who joined Bravo as CEO in January 2016, the word “mission” does not just refer to nature of the services that Bravo provides, but also to his ambitious plans for the business. Indeed, in order to keep Bravo at the leading edge of technology and customer experience, Dr. Bin Mushayt is spearheading the operator’s investment plans, which include a complete upgrade of its network using the latest TETRA and LTE technology.
Bravo is investing more than US $200 million this year; and soon it plans to invest in mission critical LTE which will mean a minimum investment of US $500 million. Dr. Bin Mushayt explains that the prime technology areas where the company is eager to invest the money include mission critical LTE, TETRA and cloud.
Upon being asked about Bravo’s technology partners, Dr. Bin Mushayt says, “We are dealing with the biggest vendors when it comes to public telecom services like Cassidian from Airbus, Motorola, Telus, and leading Chinese companies like Huawei. For mission critical LTE, we deal with Nokia Siemens, Ericsson, Huawei, Telus, and ZTE.”
The Mission Critical LTE will mainly be launched with the 3GPP standard release 13 and onward wherein it will include a lot of features related to mission critical operations especially the MC-PTT. Bravo will deploy the said network and commit to its upgrade and development to provide M2M services, IoT solutions and other subsidiary services.
Dr. Bin Mushayt is of the opinion that LTE is a broadband technology shifting the data limits up to the sky. He says: “Through LTE we will be able to provide video surveillance, video dispatching, video streaming along with other solutions and down streams currently not available on any other network.”
In terms of the benefits that the LTE will bring in, Dr. Bin Mushayt says: “The mission critical LTE network will be in more synergy with public safety officers and national security agencies in challenging conditions, it will assure their interoperability in critical situations and it will increase the cooperation between all national security players in KSA and ultimately in the GCC”. He further adds: “The said network will also guarantee a level of service not reached today as well as an encryption solution that secures all communication means and channels.”
Business - boom or doom?
Dr. Bin Mushayt tells CommsMEA that the Bravo network spans across the entire kingdom. He says: “Bravo has more than 4000 accounts, serving all the verticals of the economy from Ministry of Internal Affairs, defence or military, education, oil and gas, health, transportation, etc. On top of that, we provide many more solutions, beyond Push-to-Talk and voice calls, including broadband related solutions that they use it for example for CCTV cameras in the buses and the metros so that these can upload pictures or videos whenever there’s a need.” “We also provide solutions for fleet management, vehicle tracking, etc. In addition, we also provide most of the IoT solutions and the M2M solutions,” he adds.
“No one in the Kingdom with business critical or mission critical needs is working without Bravo solutions”, stresses Dr. Bin Mushayt. In addition to providing network, Bravo is active in the device business as well. It provides smart devices the likes of iPhones; it also provides the ruggedized specialised phones that are meant for specific kinds of usage in the oil and gas sector, for example. The advantages of the ruggedized devices are mostly in terms of safety, since they don’t transmit any frequencies that could lead to any kind of interference in high-end petrochemical factories. Apart from networks and devices, Bravo further provides several kinds of services to the military like satellite services, drones, special VSAT services, etc.
Bravo has more than 300, 000 subscribers across the Kingdom. However, given the huge market size, Dr. Bin Mushayt feels there’s a lot of potential that stays untapped so far. He explains that over the past two years, the company’s operations have suffered owing to some issues between the shareholders, namely STC and a consortium of overseas operators. Taking those factors into consideration, Saudi Telecom took over full control of the company and now the focus is on adopting the latest technologies in order to provide advanced services, with a bigger and better coverage across the Kingdom. The target is to double the revenues this year and attain almost fivefold growth in the next two to three years.
When the topic is business, one can’t help but be curious about the effect of fluctuating oil prices. However, as Dr. Bin Mushayt says: “The purchasing power in the Saudi economy is still not affected much by the lowering oil prices. I think still there are huge investments being made by the governments, though they are definitely exercising more caution of late.”
Making another interesting observation, Dr. Bin Mushayt says: “As a service provider and an operator, we have not seen an impact on our services. In fact, unfortunately, during crises the demand on our services become even higher and that’s why we are called mission critical. No matter we like it or not- more the issues, more the demand for our services”. However, it doesn’t mean the company isn’t planning any changes in the days to come.
As Dr. Bin Mushayt shares with CommsMEA, Bravo is rethinking its strategy in terms of the target enterprises. Until recently, it focussed on almost all the verticals. However going forward, the company prefers to have a niche target and hence will focus specifically on certain verticals that will mostly comprise oil and gas, military, plus high-end business areas like industrial zones, economic zones, airports and aviation.
Keeping abreast of the evolution of communication technologies, Bravo has also continuously transformed its infrastructure to ensure continuation of great services to the enterprises of the Kingdom. In the past, it used iDEN based on a Motorola technology. Today it is primarily working on TETRA, which happens to be a global standard in mission critical communications. And the latest technology to which everyone is moving and which definitely is on Bravo’s radar as well is eLTE or mission critical LTE. The complete benefits of any technology upgrade can only be achieved with the right workforce at play.
Changing the DNA
Dr. Bin Mushayt says “Technology is easy to acquire- we have means and the money. The biggest challenge however is the people- how we can transform the DNA of Bravo people from an old-legacy technology to the latest, up-to-date technology. Plus we need to transform the customer experience from legacy type to more advanced type. We have a clear plan about how we wish to do it and we are very aggressive about it.”
Bravo is shifting from being an operator serving enterprise customers into an operator targeting and serving Mission critical communication to national security, public safety and business critical customers. Keeping that in view, the company plans to invest heavily in training and development programs to raise the knowledge and expertise of the team members, and equip them with the right calibre to address the needs of the various segments with the top notch and state of the art capabilities.
Bravo has aggressive plans to change the work culture, train the employees on the job, train them overseas, and train them with the vendors as well. Dr. Bin Mushayt adds: “We are also signing new contracts with the vendors and partners in the journey to collaborate on knowledge sharing programs. Plus, STC is a school by itself –it’s a university that has helped people to graduate the best way. We believe we can do that.”
The importance of customer engagement and experience has never been as pronounced as in the current era. And Bravo is on track as well. Dr. Bin Mushayt says: “We are changing the structure of the company to being more customer centric”. Plans are in place to start all kinds of means to visit the customer, call them, and get customer feedbacks through surveys and mystery shopper initiatives. “Since we are targeting only niche group, it’s easy to get responses from our customers. Once customer feedbacks are obtained, through the technological advances we are adopting, we are sure we can change the perception soon”, says Dr. Bin Mushayt.
On top of that, Bravo is rethinking the entire brand. A specialised agency has already been employed to look at the brand, and provide suggestions to make it better.
Bravo’s counterpart in the UAE, Nedaa has made significant progress in terms of achievements, expansion and number of customers in spite of being a relatively young institution. Earlier this year, Nedaa, and its approved technology provider Esharah Etisalat Security Solutions, have commissioned Nokia to deploy a smart city solution based on a 5G-ready next-generation network that will enable high-bandwidth voice, video and other data applications for mission-critical services and Internet of Things (IoT) applications.
Dr. Bin Mushayt tells CommsMEA: “There’s a lot to be learnt from the way Nedaa works. They are pioneers in TETRA and they have partnered with Nokia for mission critical LTE. We are on knowledge sharing collaboration with them.”
Apart from that, Bravo and Nedaa are also in talks to establish a unified organisation here in the GCC that serves the region and is specialised in mission critical communications. It’ll be like a forum where the industry leaders can gather to disseminate experiences and share knowledge.
With security concern increasingly becoming a major issue worldwide, Dr. Bin Mushayt believes that in the long run, the vision should be to have a unified network pan GCC via which all public safety agencies can communicate easily and deliver the best incident response.
According to the CEO, the aspiration for Bravo is to be the company that governments and mission critical enterprises can rely on, by having the coverage everywhere, including remote areas. “I dream to see Bravo in next 4-5 years of course adopting the latest technologies, providing sophisticated solutions. I also wish to see it as an agile, customer centric company with innovative, young Saudi employees and servicing all stakeholders unlike today when some companies are building their own networks. Why can’t we all share the same resource as Bravo provides network as a service to all?” Dr. Bin Mushayt signs off.