Towards a new digital Kuwait

As Kuwait market starts on a strategic plan to adapt to the non-oil economy, there are great opportunities for telecom operators to gain the first-mover advantage if they can bring in newer solutions and services to the market before their counterparts.
Vision 2035, National Development Plan, New Kuwait, Kuwait Investment Forum 2018, CITRA, Kuwait telecoms, Zain Kuwait, Digital transformation, ZAIN LIFE, IoT, 5G, VIVA Kuwait, VoLTE, Ooredoo

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When compared with countries like the UAE and KSA, Kuwait might have been relatively slower in adapting itself for the non-oil economy, however, it has definitely started its journey in that direction. In January 2017, the Government of Kuwait unveiled the country’s Vision 2035 and National Development Plan, branded as “New Kuwait”.

The “New Kuwait” development plan intends to transform Kuwait into a financial, cultural, and institutional leader in the region by 2035, and is based on five strategic directions and the following seven pillars: public administration, economy, infrastructure, living environment, healthcare, human capital, and global position.

At the recently held the Kuwait Investment Forum 2018 titled "Options Available in Vital Sectors", the Chairman and CEO of the Communication and Information Technology Regulatory Authority (CITRA), Eng. Salem AlOzaina said that the Kuwait Hub project, expected to be completed in the next two years, will contribute in transforming the country into a global communications hub as well as developing the country's infrastructure. Al-Ozainah added that Kuwait is among several active markets with a lot of investment opportunities and presumes to increase the global capacity of Internet traffic by 40% due to technological development and the appearance of the new fifth-generation.

Kuwait Hub aims to connect international cables between the East and West regions from Kuwait, through Iraq, to Turkey, and reaching Europe, as well as providing a lot of job opportunities for citizens and attracting foreign investment.

Not one to be left behind, the Kuwait telecom market has been witnessing several innovative digital transformation initiatives by the telcos. Decreasing internet tariffs have led to a more competitive landscape in the country. Earlier in the year, Zain Kuwait launched Zain Life, a new brand that offers customers a portfolio of innovative and flexible digital services and solutions in the areas of smart homes, digital entertainment, and customer experience.  The launch of Zain Life comes under the umbrella of Zain’s strategic vision to reinforce its digital transformation leadership, offering unparalleled services and solutions in the fields of Smart Homes through a number of security devices designed to revolutionize home security, as well as digital entertainment solutions through the PlayStation VR device. The new brand also offers new solutions in the customer experience sector through the all new Zain Smart Branch – the first of its kind self-service machine launched by a telecommunications company in Kuwait.

Zain Kuwait’s CEO Eaman Al Roudhan said: “The all-new Zain Life brand consists of a portfolio of flexible digital services that include an array of innovative packages, further enriching Zain’s leadership in offering the latest digital transformation applications. We will be continuously enriching our Zain Life brand with more services and solutions this year and during the upcoming years. This will includes smart solutions in the areas of education, health, entertainment, and youth empowerment”.

Al Roudhan continued: “Zain’s digital transformation journey began two years ago with our partnership with the Ministry of Electricity and Water through the Smart Meters project. We consider ourselves an active partner in creating the future of smart life in Kuwait, as well as empowering the community though the use of advanced technologies such as IoT and more”.

Last year, Zain won the official bid to become the strategic partner to MEW with respect to managing the smart metering components of the project for a period of seven years. As part of the agreement, Zain will manage the systems of smart electricity and water reading meters in Kuwait. Zain is in charge of managing and operating the smart meters project in collaboration with a number of global strategic partners, including E&Y and Ericsson. The project is set to revolutionise the process of obtaining electricity and water readings, which will be taken automatically and can be tracked in real-time.

As operators round the world leave no stones unturned to stay at the forefront of the 5G revolution, the year 2017 saw Kuwaiti operators coming forward in a big way. VIVA Kuwait successfully tested 5G in its lab and was able to achieve almost 35Gbps. Zain successfully tested 5G technology achieving maximum throughput speeds of over 70 Gbps over 2GHz spectrum. This speed represents one of the highest-ever recorded in the region.

Kuwait came into spotlight for yet another reason last year when Zain announced that it has entered into definite agreements to sell and leaseback the passive physical infrastructure of its mobile tower portfolio in Kuwait for $165 million to IHS Holding, in partnership with Towershare. The transaction will result in the formation of a new entity that will acquire and manage Zain’s tower assets in Kuwait, with Zain assuming a minority shareholding in this newly formed entity.

Under the terms of the transaction, Zain is selling only its passive, physical infrastructure to the new company and will retain its intelligent software, technology and intellectual property with respect to managing its network. Upon completion, the transaction will be the first sale and leaseback of telecom towers in the Middle East region by a licensed mobile operator, and creates the first independent tower operator of scale in the region.

In a very interesting example of collaboration for advancement, Zain, Ooredoo, and VIVA Kuwait jointly launched the first local Voice over LTE (VoLTE) interconnection in the Middle East and North Africa region last year. The service is now commercially available between the three operators’ networks. This collaboration offers a seamless and direct local VoLTE-to-VoLTE HD voice experience between Zain, Ooredoo, and VIVA customers, providing a fully-operational and stable interconnect experience during phone calls on supported devices.

As the world shifts more and more towards digital experiences, the significance of content marketplace can’t be undermined. Last year, Zain announced the official launch of iflix’s world-class Streaming Video on Demand (SVoD) service in Kuwait. Zain and iflix previously announced the formation of their joint venture to bring the world’s leading entertainment service for emerging markets to consumers to MENA. With over 170 studio and distributor partnerships worldwide, iflix offers users a vast library of top Hollywood, regional Arabic, popular Turkish and other local TV shows and movies, including many first run exclusives and award winning programmes.

Another highlight of the market in Kuwait is that there have been an onslaught of activities to encourage entrepreneurship, train the youths in the country and prepare for the digital era. For example, Zain group has collaborated with Nuqat for an initiative called IN-DIG-GO -an educational programme for children ranging between the ages of 6 and 11, aimed at expanding children's perceptions, strengthening their knowledge base and creativity, and developing their personal and educational skills.

Zain has also targeted young university graduates by launching the third generation of its "Generation Z" training project, which aims to invest in young national talent to provide a new generation of pioneers to the business environment. Four graduates from this project joined Zain in 2016, and became permanent students in 2017.

Zain has also partnered with Brilliant Lab, a start-up accelerator service from Kuwait, and Mind The Bridge, a Silicon Valley-based organisation specialising in entrepreneurship education for start-ups, enterprises and investors, and holds the Zain Great Idea (ZGI) accelerator programme, aimed at identifying and fostering young, hi tech entrepreneurs in Kuwait.

In a move to promote gender equality, Zain Group has launched its all-female empowerment initiative. It’s driven by the vice-chairman and CEO of Zain Group, Bader Al-Kharafi. Just 23% of Zain’s workforce is female while the global average is around 40%. “The plan is to increase the current women leadership positions from 14% today to 25% by 2020," said Al-Kharafi.

He stressed that Kuwait must support women. “Countries that support gender equality have a higher GDP, and at the corporate level, will lead to an increase in happiness and creativity leading to a direct impact on the bottom. 65% of our graduates are females, but we do not see them enough in the workplace. That is why we need to give them flexible hours, home working opportunities as well as equal growth and salary opportunities”.

The journey to digitally transform Kuwait will definitely have to be a combined focus on technological upgrades, and entrepreneurial innovation. The regional telcos have been doing a great job, but there is a lot of untapped opportunities that operators need to leverage and introduce newer services to the market before others.

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