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Telecom Review has successfully concluded its latest webinar titled “E-Oman: The Success of Digital Transformation,” which gathered the telecom industry leaders within Oman. The panel featured executive panelists, namely Sheikh Talal Bin Saeed Bin Marhoon Al Mamari, CEO, Omantel Oman; Bassam Yousef Al Ibrahim, CEO, Ooredoo Oman; and Bader Al Zidi, CEO, Vodafone Oman. The panel was moderated by Abdullah S. Al-Balushi, Partner and Technology Consulting, EY.

In his welcome note, Mr. Toni Eid, Trace Media CEO and founder of Telecom Review Group, welcomed the guests and the moderator. Mr. Eid highlighted Oman's digital transformation and the achievements of Telecom Operators in the ICT sector. Before delving into the discussion, Sheikh Talal Al Mamari expressed his gratitude for being part of this panel, saying, “I think it takes Telecom Review to get all the heads in Telecom here in Oman together. I hope that this panel discussion sheds light on the most important dimensions in the sectors that provide value to the participants as much as possible.”

Key Challenges in Oman’s Digital Transformation Journey

For the first question, Al-Balushi asked the panelists about the key challenges faced by Oman's digital transformation in the ICT sector.

Al Mamari answered that the “foundation of ICT” is available in Oman as they have “very heavy investment when it comes to infrastructure,” specifically relating to telecom. However, when it comes to the utilization of the available opportunities in this ecosystem, Al Mamari enumerated varying challenges from stakeholders: moving from legacy systems that are not disruptive for day-to-day business and building capacity with talents that are capable and responsive to changes.

Adding his perspective, Al Zidi stated, “Vodafone Oman is a digital-native player that came into the market. We didn't need to go through the digital transformation because we were digital from day one. But that in itself has also imposed a different set of challenges.”

One of them is cybersecurity, which becomes an important element in managing the data and data security of customer profiles. “As you become more digital, then that becomes even far more important.”

“The challenge we have is the integration to the other sectors,” Al Zidi also pointed out. Any digital transformation that a customer undergoes requires integration and synergy to complete the full ecosystem.

The affordability aspect of digital transformation is also a challenge that should be addressed in Oman when expanding its international connectivity opportunities.

In connection with the demand for digital services, Bassam shared his views on these challenges. By default, as an operator, they always want to bring the latest and greatest to the end customer. But if “he's not utilizing it to his full capacity, it's a waste of money from a telecom operator. It's also lack of utilization from the customer.”

Apart from educating the customer, education is also required internally when “changing from a traditional type of telecom operator to a digital operator.”


Impact of Digitalization on Oman’s Economy

The ensuing discussion ventured onto the topic of the impact of digitalization, with the moderator seeking an in-depth understanding of the panelists’ points of view. 

In his response, Al Mamari suggested that many investors look for competitive landscapes, and those competitive landscapes are not only limited to economic incentives but also the speed of doing business.

Al Zidi said, “For us in Oman, the good news is that from an economic perspective, our potential is high. Our compound annual growth rate is above 8% year-on-year, which reflects the potential that can come from digitalization and digital transformation.

Al Ibrahim agreed with his co-panelists' opinions, stating that it would affect them as well, as they are also key telecom players in the market. “Regarding ICT development, let's go back a little bit and let's talk about technology and telecoms as a whole. For any developed or developing country in the world, one of its key pillars for growth is technology.

ICT’s Role in Economic Development

Al Ibrahim highlighted the significant role of ICT in economic development and the driving force of telecoms in this process. He reflected on his experience working in both brownfield and Greenfield countries at the Ooredoo group level. He observed that the launch of basic telecom services such as voice, data, and SMS can rapidly propel economic development in a country. The technology implementation acts as a catalyst, enabling fast-tracking and leapfrogging in various areas.

Also, he expressed his admiration for the progress already achieved in Oman, acknowledging his fellow partners, the CEOs of Omantel and Vodafone, for their contributions to this journey. However, he also acknowledged that there is still more work to be done to ensure that Oman's Vision 2040 surpasses the requirements set forth, with telecom operators playing a vital role.

Cybersecurity and Its Data Protection

Furthermore, the moderator posed the following question to the panelists: "With the development of ICT, does cybersecurity play a crucial role in protecting data?"

Al Mamari was the first to respond, stating that as organizations, individuals and governments transition to a more digital ecosystem, the importance of cybersecurity in safeguarding data increases significantly. Al Mamari expressed satisfaction with the current level of cybersecurity infrastructure and government involvement but also emphasized the need to stay ahead of evolving threats and invest in people's awareness and skills.

Al Zidi added that as technology advances, cybersecurity becomes increasingly crucial in ensuring the safety and security of data, especially as a digital-native company. They have adopted artificial intelligence for analyzing cybersecurity threats and have witnessed the positive impact of leveraging advanced technology to combat evolving threats. He advised other organizations to also embrace new technologies to address the rising challenges in cybersecurity.

Al Ibrahim shared that cybersecurity has long been ingrained in Ooredoo’s DNA, with the highest levels of the group emphasizing its importance. As key operators in the country, they strive to maintain top-notch security services and actively invest in cybersecurity measures. Ooredoo engages in continuous testing, operational reviews, and knowledge sharing with the group and external services to ensure robust protection of key assets.

Government Cooperation

Concerning the disaster recovery and other established services, Al Mamari said that there are several initiatives that Omantel is working on as it moves forward into the cloud. But most of the investment at this point, as they move some government entities into the cloud, is in cloud mirroring. “We are building that through several data centers across the country. There is a lot of science behind this, and most of our investment related to disaster recovery, along with the government of Oman, is based on these standards.”

To this end, Al Zidi added: “As a new global challenger that is coming into the Omani market, while we are very busy in building the foundation, we have also established foundations and reviewed the activities of the government so that we can identify where we can play roles and support the government in achieving its objectives and vision of 2040. We are particularly very excited about some of the industrial potentials like big data, AI and IoT.”

Moreover, Al Ibrahim talked about many services that they are working on and that they have already implemented with the government. It goes back to the topic of heavy development or investment when it comes to their data centers. “There are a lot of services that we are looking at in all aspects. And again, this also goes back to how we can utilize the latest and the greatest that we are getting from our partners.” He highlighted that the vendors play a massive role in providing them with the latest and greatest of what they see coming in the future.

Importance of Muscat as a Geographical Hub

On this level, Al Mamari declared that Oman has already been established as a regional hub. Today, in Oman, there are already 16 cable systems that are landing across the northern parts of the country as well as the south. This ecosystem of cable systems is not going to stop, and they are investing at this point in time in Salalah. Four confirmed cable systems will be landing in this city very soon. Two additional potential cables will land there. Their joint venture with Equinix has already been established in Barqa, and a similar data center will be built in Salalah. He stated also: “What is known today is that, with many other skills and specifically internet traffic, Oman is the base for the region. Google has the biggest infrastructure that serves the GCC countries and countries such as Iraq, Pakistan as well as Yemen, and some parts of the Horn of Africa.”

In response, Al Zidi mentioned that he’s very proud that the telecom industry is one of the few that has positively leveraged the geographical location of Oman. Vodafone Oman is evaluating a few potential opportunities. And it's a space that they would like to be in, and hopefully they will announce something shortly.

Al Ibrahim agreed with his co-panelists' opinions, saying that when it comes to international connectivity, Oman has a fantastic geographic advantage. “By pushing that, it will give the country massive opportunities; it will give also an opportunity to see how well we can grow the business in this area, not just for telecoms.”

Four poll questions were then asked to the audience by the moderator, and insights on these queries were drawn from the panelists as well.

The first question posed was, “What is the most important technology to be deployed in Oman?” where 52% of the audience voted for “Artificial Intelligence,” while 33% focused on “IoT” and 15% on “Emerging tracking and monitoring technologies.”

The second question asked, “What is the main problem that arises when optimizing networks?” Here, the vote was distributed as follows: 16% on “Minimum-cost flow,” 15% on “Max flow,” 7% on “Shortest path” and 62% on “All of the above.”

The third question pondered was, “Is cloud computing present in most sectors?” Here, 54% of the audience answered “In process,” while 31% voted “Yes” and 15% “No.”

The final question asked respondents to identify the main revenue stream for the ICT sector in the upcoming years. 53% of respondents agreed with "Artificial Intelligence," 29% with "Metaverse" and 18% with "Cloud Edge," while ignoring "Web 3."

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