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In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, Vodafone Qatar CEO, Sheikh Hamad Abdulla Jassim Al-Thani, shared the importance of delivering a world-class digital experience and why they are focusing on ICT, managed services and fintech to contribute to developing Qatar’s digital infrastructure, among other insights.

Congratulations on the achievement of Vodafone Qatar having the world’s fastest mobile network based on analysis by Ookla Speedtest. Can you share Vodafone’s network strategy and how you set yourself up for success? What are your priorities over the next 1-2 years?

We created our strategy and committed ourselves to building a “world-class network” for our customers since 2018. Over the years, we have steadily invested in network expansion and almost doubled the number of radio network sites, while also upgrading our sites with cutting-edge technologies. We focused on efficiency, optimization and security, including improving our 5G coverage, capacity and capabilities; adding international connections; and implementing a continuous cycle of network adoptions to meet customer demands and network traffic growth.

The disciplined execution of our network strategy paved the way for us to deliver a seamless customer experience during the World Cup. We had a million active roamers and another 0.4 million Fan SIMs on top of our 2.1 million regular mobile customer base. In effect, the utilization of our network significantly increased in usage terms. We would be one of the few operators in the whole world who could execute such a steep scale-up in demand this successfully.

We have demonstrated to ourselves and the world that we have achieved our ambition of having a world-class network. On top of that, we have set the new global benchmark for network speed and have proudly been named the World's Fastest Mobile Network by Ookla Speedtest. Our priority going forward is to further grow our mobile and fixed networks and promote digitalization for the benefit of the businesses and consumers that we work with.

Can you share with us Vodafone Qatar's strategy for driving innovation in the telecom market?

In 2018, we put the general principle in place for our strategy “Digital 2023”, where the aim was to evolve our business from being a low-value-oriented mobile operator to a diversified digital player. The strategy had 5 pillars: simplify the way we work, digitalize the customer experience, grow our core, diversify beyond core and be responsible to our customers, shareholders and the environment. Each of those pillars had several strategic objectives, which acted as a lighthouse from which our various initiatives were started.

Under the digital customer experience pillar, our aim to constantly improve customer experience is a key driver for innovation, and we have evolved our products and services in recent years around this aim. We are now providing ever more advanced and complex solutions, which simplify the lives of our individual and enterprise customers.

A few of our recent innovations include:

  • eKYC (know-your-customer) and eSignature feature, along with eSIM, were implemented for self-activation of Fan SIMs
  • Real-time tracking of digital orders with home delivery
  • First IoT Tracker for consumers in Qatar
  • Big Data as a Service offering to enterprises
  • Guaranteed Home WiFi coverage

What is the importance of delivering a world-class digital experience? Which investments and collaborations are enabling this journey?

Digital experiences are important because they allow our customers to connect with us in a way that is convenient for them. At every single digital interaction, our customers receive the exact same high-quality, personalized experience to which they are accustomed. From an organizational perspective, we benefit from repeatability and cost optimization, which are instrumental to scaling our business efficiently.

Over the last five years, we have modernized 100% of our IT stack, invested in our people and processes, and embraced Agile methodologies. Today, our time to market to launch new products and services is shorter, and digital experiences are embedded into the heart of every product, process and touchpoint for our customers from the beginning, and not as an afterthought.

An example of this is how we developed our MyVodafone app in a short period of time to cater to the large inflow of tourists coming to the country for the recent World Cup event. We developed an end-to-end digital journey built on eKYC, eSignature and eSim that helped us gain a greater share of visitor revenue in the market.

Given Vodafone Qatar’s strong commitment to developing digital infrastructure, what are your focuses for 2023, and how will they drive economic growth in Qatar?

Qatar has been a very progressive country in not only prioritizing digitalization but also actively working with companies such as Vodafone Qatar in this endeavor. We are contributing to the digital economy through supporting the digital transformation of both individual and corporate customers with our innovative product portfolio and world-class infrastructure.

Our current focus areas for developing Qatar’s digital infrastructure include ICT and Managed Services, where on an institutional scale we will continue to identify and explore transformational and capability-building opportunities with key stakeholders in Qatar, and fintech; last year we introduced iPay, which will support Qatar’s move towards a more digitized and cashless economy.

Sustainability is also a priority for us, including creating a sustainable network through a change of power source to the National Grid and incorporating newer methodologies of deployment such as the Rapid Deployment Mechanism (RDM). We will also continue to promote digital inclusion and expand access to best-in-class services for all communities, as well as our programs that focus on digital awareness and well-being.

MWC 2023's theme is unleashing tomorrow's technology today. As a telecom operator, how do you utilize cutting-edge technologies to bring opportunities for all kinds of customers?

We are continually using cutting-edge technologies to digitally transform the lives and businesses of our customers. To do so, we have a strategic, customer-driven approach for deciding which technology to invest in and focus on improving the customer experience for each key segment — postpaid, prepaid, home and enterprises.

Some examples of these technologies include:

  • 5G mmWave: The potential of mmWave technology is huge, and it is enabling the future of 5G and connectivity. We deployed mmWave 5G in the stadiums for the World Cup, providing higher data speeds than other 5G spectrums, reaching up to 4.6 Gbps on the downlink and 734 Mbps uplink.
  • Digital self-activation: We launched self-activation of SIM via eKYC for both local and global football fans in November 2022, who no longer had to visit a store as they were able to digitally purchase and self-activate their SIM or e-SIM, without the need of any human touchpoint. We saw that the eSIM was a popular choice among fans, with 69% of customers activating their eSIM digitally.
  • IOT: We see that there is a need to bring IoT technologies to market and enable digital transformation through innovative IoT solutions. At Vodafone, we pride ourselves on our deep sector expertise and industry-leading technologies that allow us to design and deliver IoT services and solutions that are tailored to customers in diverse industries and of different sizes.

We have many more initiatives underway that will continue to leverage cutting-edge technologies, which we will announce when the right time comes.

How has Vodafone Qatar lived up to its slogan "Together We Can" in the last twelve months?

The World Cup was a perfect demonstration of our “Together We Can” spirit. Thanks to the efforts of our team and our partners, we have achieved exceptional results during the tournament, including:

  • 8 million roaming customers latched on to our roaming network. Of these, 1 million customers were active roamers.
  • Over 419,000 fans enjoyed our FAN SIMs and packages.
  • Around 15 million calls were made and 1,188 TB of data was consumed by fans during the matches.
  • The average download speed at the stadiums was 707 mbps on 5G, with maximum download speeds in excess of 1.89 Gbps
  • Call setup rates remained high at 99.92%.
  • Public Wi-Fi service spanned over 4,000 buses and 1,000 taxis, as well as the entire Doha Metro network.

Partnerships are key to “Together We Can,” and we have developed many notable relationships across the market and technology industry. For example, Microsoft continues to be a key partner for Vodafone, and together we commit to providing more digital solutions to businesses across the country.

We also launched our largest ever sustainability campaign, “Yes, We Can Renew and Rebuild,” during the Holy Month of Ramadan in 2022. This was one of the first sustainability initiatives that Qatar has seen on this large a scale, and we aimed to tackle the high volume of food waste produced by homes across Qatar and, through a partnership with Seashore Recycling, gave away free Bio Box composting bins. We are also committed to reducing the impact on the environment while constantly improving customer experience, mainly by digitizing the balance recharge process, which both reduces the use of paper and offers a much-improved experience for both retailers and consumers.

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