Sohail Qadir, vice president, wholesale business unit, Omantel, tells CommsMEA how the telco’s soaring wholesale business has been successful in positioning it as a trusted carrier apart from being a revenue churner.
CommsMEA: Could you give us an idea of Omantel’s regional and international presence as a wholesale operator?
Currently, we have capacity on over 20 submarine cables connecting over 50 countries on five continents and we can reach both the east and west coast of the USA on our network. Throughout the years, we have moved from being the regional carrier of choice for the Middle East to become a truly international one. In the region, we have redundant connectivity to all Middle Eastern countries and, as an example, we have four submarine cable systems connecting Oman with Iran. We also have a number of POPs connecting content directly with our network which includes ,but is not limited to Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Marseille, Singapore, Los Angles, New York. Soon we will have our POPs in London, Paris, Madrid and Milan.
CommsMEA: Who are the main partners you are working with in this area?
We are connected to nearly 100 carriers around the world and we work with many of them on a very close and strategic way as customer, vendor, and co-investor. For instance, TeliaSonera and Telecom Italia, which are among the largest global IP backbone providers, selected Oman as the location for their first PoP in the region to offer a full portfolio of IP, Ethernet, international voice, and IPX-based services in the region by using Omantel’s unique and superior network.
Another important strategic partnership is with NTT, another global Tier 1 carrier, which is one of our many IP transit providers. The agreement we recently reached with NTT puts Omantel as one of the suppliers of the global backbone needed by NTT to supply its IP transit services. We use a combination of BBG (Bay of Bengal Gateway), and EIG (Europe India Gateway) to connect NTT between Singapore and the United Kingdom, which definitely further enhances NTT’s network between Asia and Europe.
This partnership is a great example of how a relatively small carrier such as Omantel can complement and create synergies with a global company like NTT.
CommsMEA: What prompted Omantel to exert a higher focus on its wholesale business?
Prior to Omantel Wholesale business, the Middle Eastern market was somehow monopolised by a few players and that situation needed a focussed and flexible player in the market to support the regional and global operators in our region. Hence Omantel Wholesale started its journey. Today Omantel is known for its focus and prompt delivery of services along with excellent customer services to its wholesale clients. This has been complemented by the geographical location of the Sultanate of Oman which has more than 3000 km of coastline facing the Arabian Sea. It allows Omantel to land most of the submarine cable systems in Oman to serve the region and provides an excellent landing point to connect the east with the west; and Africa with China.
CommsMEA: What about Omantel’s connection with international capacities?
Omantel is continuously expanding its international footprint to strategic locations. We are currently the gateway between Asia and Europe with multiple systems creating redundant and low-latency connectivity so the focus now is to connect Africa, Europe, and Asia, especially China.
Two new exciting ventures are the SRG-1 (Silk Route Gateway), which will further enhance the capacity and redundancy to Pakistan and then extend through terrestrial route to China; and the G2A (Gulf to Africa) connecting Oman with Somalia and then further extending via terrestrial route to Ethiopia.
The combination of SRG-1 and G2A will create something truly unique where Pakistan is shouldering China, Afghanistan, Iran and India and Omantel will land the new system there to connect to most of the countries. On the other end, Somalia and Ethiopia are two highly under-served countries from internet and international capacity point of view and that will soon be connected to our international low-latency network, gain access to all the content hosted in Oman and consume services from Europe and Asia.
CommsMEA: Would you like to highlight any of recent big achievements of Omantel in the wholesale space?
One of the major recent achievements is the Marseille landing of the AAE-1 submarine cable, one of the world’s largest systems spanning from Hong Kong to Marseille. Omantel is the first GCC operator to land a submarine cable in Europe as a landing party for AAE-1 and is managing the landing and POP in Marseille to the same extent as the landing in Oman. This will allow Omantel be closer to the internet content, connect to many strategic and global carriers and content players to be able to better serve our customers and all AAE-1 consortium members from Marseille. In addition, this opens a new door for Omantel to start providing the same portfolio of services in Europe and enhance the depth of our wholesale product portfolio.
CommsMEA: What kind of investment are you planning for this space?
Our board and management have been very supportive of the vision. Given the fact that the wholesale business is bringing in good results, we have been an active investor in different fields of network roll-out be it roaming, voice network set-up or new submarine cables. To date we have more than $500 million investments and we will continue connecting the unconnected around us. We have ambitious plans and those require equal or higher investments than what has already been done in the last 10 years.
CommsMEA: Are there any major projects you are currently working on in this space? What can we look forward to in the coming time?
G2A connecting Ethiopia and Africa through Somalia and SRG-1 connecting China and Afghanistan through Pakistan are among the new projects that will be completed and ready for service in next few months.
CommsMEA: Which other operator in the region is on the forefront of the wholesale business?
Ooredoo Qatar and Etisalat UAE are surely a good examples and Saudi Telecom for sure is at the forefront in wholesale business in the region. We have excellent relationships with all operators in our region and are complementing each other. We believe that the Middle East, like Europe, is emerging as the next hub for international and IP connectivity and all of us in the region are playing a very important role in this.
CommsMEA: How has the telecom wholesale business evolved over time? What’s your strategy to capitalise on the same?
With the growth of IP video, the rising importance of software, and the explosion of connected devices, we are witnessing a very strong increasing demand for low-latency capacity. In order to meet this demand and grab a position in high-volume markets, scale is essential to maximise the margins and stay competitive. However, there are also opportunities for niche wholesalers in the value chain to serve particular customers with specialist services not necessarily built on size; some wholesalers that are successful low-cost enablers of agnostic networks providing services through low-margin efficient networks prove this. Overall, especially for our region, carrier neutrality is critical in order to be a positive force in the industry and Omantel thinks, and hopes, that our region will also be able to mature and move in that direction.
CommsMEA: Does emphasis on wholesale space mean reduced interest in the enterprise space?
On the contrary, the wholesale business is an enabler for many revenue streams of which the enterprise segment is one. We are continuously expanding our international footprint with submarine cables and new PoPs (Point of Presence) around the world. For example, when we recently launched a new PoP at Los Angeles, our corporate business units benefited from the additional unique services and solutions that they can provide to their customers.