Vodafone Oman is seeking to create a fully-fledged experience to its customers which will pave the way towards the development of a digital society. In order to discuss more on that, Telecom Review caught up with Bader Al Zidi, CEO, Vodafone Oman. In the interview, Vodafone Oman CEO explains how the operator is handling the fierce competiton and enhancing its capabilities to offer a world-class digital experience.
As one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world with footprints across 22 countries and network partnerships in 48 countries, what was Vodafone's motivation behind taking its first steps towards its launch and how will it contribute to the nation's economy?
Through our establishment as a greenfield operator, we believe that we can enhance innovation from a digital-first aspect through advanced technology and the utilisation of existing network infrastructure. Our objective is to create a fully-fledged experience hub that provides our customers with a complete and comprehensive digital journey. By launching in Oman, we have the unique opportunity to be able to drive positive change and transition by making life simple and easier for everyone across the Sultanate. As Vodafone Oman, we are looking towards the development of a sustainable digital society, where technology and people work hand-in-hand to enrich the future outlook of the nation, in turn creating a better way of life within the Sultanate, by providing everyone access to our products and services. With the rapid advancement of technology and the evolution of the world into the digital sphere, we can play a significant role in contributing to the economy of the country, by bringing about new and innovative first of a kind digital products within the region.
One of our main goals is the extension of digitalisation and innovation, by leveraging on existing infrastructure to transform traditional methods and services that are currently being provided. This has been seen through the unprecedented conditions that were faced two years ago, where it was vital for networks to ensure the uninterrupted operations of economies, as well as critical sectors, such as education, e-commerce and healthcare. However, economies across the world have been spurred on by the impact of COVID-19, leading to a surge of change and transformation, which has accelerated the digital transformation trend and processes. Apart from continuing in this endeavor as we shift to a more digital future, we are also keen to explore means and ways that we can capitalise on this trend, while simultaneously adding more features and innovations to the Vodafone Oman portfolio.
Aligning ourselves with the objectives of Oman Vision 2040, Vodafone Oman strives to ensure that its efforts and innovations are able to create economic competitiveness and social well-being, alongside stimulating growth and development within the Sultanate. With the introduction and addition of more of our services, we can look towards contributing to Oman’s economic diversification efforts, enhancing innovation across all sectors and in turn, creating job opportunities for the local population.
As a third mobile operator in the Omani telecom space, how do you plan to project the Vodafone brand in Oman and what are your strategies to face the stiff competition from the incumbent players catering to the country’s 6.3 million mobile subscribers?
We are aware of the rigid competition that will welcome us within the market, given the segregation of the population’s subscribers to either one of the two main players. However, we are looking to focus on ensuring the offering of a wide range of differentiated and unmatched high-quality services to our customers, which will not only create an added value to every individual but will also raise and redefine the provision of excellent customer service and related facilities within the Sultanate.
Through key partnerships that will see us achieve our goals, Vodafone Oman will be able to offer its consumers first-class user experience, exceptional network quality and performance, both of which are factors that will enable us to hold a competitive advantage in the market. Given the current trends, there has arisen a growing need for consumers looking for comprehensive telecommunication services, especially amongst the corporate sectors. With efforts to capitalise on these demands and enrich customer experience, we will be able to enhance efficiency alongside facilitating newer and improved levels of innovation for our customers, specifically within the Sultanate.
Other than the role of providing connectivity services, in what other ways is Vodafone Oman going to expand its scope as an end-to-end integration service provider? What does it mean for the growing SMEs sector?
We host a diverse portfolio of services, comprising of innovation, technology and consumer and business products and services. We can see the expansion of our offerings to bring the same facilities to our customers here in Oman. On the innovation front, we are well-versed with digital transformation to deliver a fundamentally improved customer experience, powered by new technologies. Moreover, with a world that currently hosts a myriad of intelligent machines, AI, augmented reality and software agents, aimed at making the quality of life better, we are looking to comprehend this technology and better develop it to see how we can use it to benefit our own business operations and the services extended to customers.
In line with our efforts to create enterprise solutions that span across industries, we are looking towards the creation of holistic and comprehensive services which make use of existing infrastructure. Our roadmap includes benefitting from emerging technology to augment companies in the SME sector. With the national strategy aimed at empowering SMEs, we too can play our part in contributing to this endeavor, by not only boosting their business but also forming collaborations towards creating job opportunities and enhancing innovation. We believe in the strength of the nation’s SMEs and are committed to investing in this sector, to collectively add value to the nation.
Vodafone Technology has been established as leaders in IoT, building on over 35-years of innovation and technological breakthroughs. We benefit from this expertise to continue working to build the world’s largest Internet of Things (IoT) platform, with an unmatched level of connectivity. This is also inclusive of research, exploration and development of technology related to 5G, Next Generation Network (NGN) and connected drones while keeping an eye out for means of improvement, wherever possible. This also extends to the products and services we offer, whether it is on a consumer or a business level.
Please tell us about Vodafone Oman's investments and programmes to develop the Omani digital talents for the ICT sector, especially in the field of cybersecurity.
Within the framework of our operational plan and national directives to actively implement initiatives to support the employment of Omani youth, we saw the roll-out of our “Vodafone Academy” programme. This initiative aims to qualify and employ 140 job seekers in Oman and empower them with practical skills and knowledge related to customer service as care agents and sales sector as retail support. The programme presents a high-level knowledge experience, by enabling Omani youth to benefit from the expertise of Vodafone Global and paving a path for them to become future leaders of the local communication sector. Following the success of our training programme, we are looking to set up new training programmes in marketing to equip young local talent with specialist, industry-leading expertise. Together with key partners, we will collaborate to enable the youth of Oman to step into a rewarding career journey in a thriving industry.
Collaborations with local companies such as Ernst and Young and National Security Services Group L.L.C (NSSG), allow us to make use of their resources towards the development of the ICT sector, specifically in terms of cybersecurity. We aim to enhance these offerings, as well as partner with new organisations that host similar capabilities and adapt them to meet the needs of the local market. We currently stand at 95% Omanisation and make it one of our primary objectives to establish a workplace that is the happiest in Oman, comprising of an inclusive culture that promotes every individual’s well-being and career development. At the heart of everything we do is a belief that when humans and technology come together, anything’s possible. Together, we can.
How is Vodafone Oman forging collaboration and implementing strategies in leveraging 5G, cloud platform, and emerging technologies to enhance the performance of your networks for an enhanced digital experience for your customers?
We recently entered into an agreement with Ericsson to deploy, operate and maintain a new 4G and 5G core and radio access (RAN) greenfield network. Ericsson will supply a complete core network solution based on Ericsson Cloud Core, NFVI and Cloud VoLTE as well as an end-to-end transport network solution. The greenfield network includes other Ericsson radio system products and solutions such as the antenna-integrated radio and Ericsson Spectrum Sharing. The end-to-end solution range will deliver a cost-efficient, energy-efficient and flexible layered architecture design to support 5G from network launch. This will enable our customers to receive immense benefits from the services of Ericsson Voice over LTE (VoLTE).
Moreover, we have also signed a five-year management services agreement for an AI-powered data-driven network and IT operations and optimisation. Through this collaboration, we can benefit from Ericsson’s AI tools and data-driven model to drive efficiencies and a shift from reactive to proactive IT and network operations, alongside offering our customers with an enhanced user experience, improved network quality and performance.
Energy efficiency is a critical aspect in planning and optimizing new mobile networks. How will Vodafone Oman address this issue in line with the UN's sustainability developmental goals in the next 2 to 3 years?
The UN SDGs provide a blueprint for human progress and a clear call to action for businesses to contribute to a better future. We believe that the efforts towards the shift in digital technology can help accelerate progress towards delivering the SDGs across societies.
Vodafone Oman is committed to playing its role and we believe we can increase the speed and scale of delivery across a wide number of SDGs through leveraging our technology and services, and through partnering with relevant industries and establishments with the same mindset. Among the telecommunications and technology industry, we have an exceptional opportunity to utilise digital technology and work towards building an inclusive sustainable digital society.
We have identified two priority SDGs that will enable us and our partners to find lasting solutions to social, economic and environmental challenges and thereby accelerate the delivery of several other SDGs. Namely, these are building resilient infrastructure and innovation and strengthening the means of implementation and partnerships for sustainable development. By being a cloud-based entity that focuses on moving away from traditional methodologies and into the digital sphere, our activities look to reduce the amount of energy required to provide products and services. All of these collectively will contribute towards the acceleration of delivery across several other SDGs.
In a rapidly evolving digital economy, according to you, what are the challenges facing next-generation connectivity, and what are the solutions to tackle this?
Connecting so many devices will be one of the biggest challenges of the future of IoT, and it will defy the very structure of current communication models and the underlying technologies. At present, there is a reliance on the centralised, server/client paradigm to authenticate, authorise and connect different nodes in a network. This model is sufficient for current IoT ecosystems, where tens, hundreds or even thousands of devices are involved. But when networks grow to join billions and hundreds of billions of devices, centralised brokered systems will turn into a bottleneck. Therefore, such systems will require huge investments and spending in maintaining cloud servers, similar to what we have established, that can handle such large amounts of information exchange.
The future of IoT will very much have to depend on decentralising IoT networks. Part of it can become possible by moving functionality to the edge, such as using fog computing models where smart devices such as IoT hubs take charge of time-critical operations and cloud servers take on data gathering and analytical responsibilities.
For operators, all–Internet protocol (IP) networks will bring several benefits. First, NGNs will reduce the operational costs of multiple services by an estimated 35% through their simpler architectures and economies of scale. Second, they will speed the development of new services, including video telephony, whiteboarding, and multimedia conferencing with file and application sharing. But for all these advantages, building the NGNs will require huge investments in infrastructure. Moreover, NGNs will force changes to the economics of the telecommunications industry through changes in traditional pricing models.
For the last 20 years and more, regulation and deregulation have transformed the telecommunications industry, making it one of the most vital markets in the world. But now the industry is at the cutting edge of technologies and opportunities that are still beyond the ability to imagine fully.
It is at this time that regulators, policymakers, and the industry must find the wisdom to think beyond what can be seen. Rules must be set that will encourage the funding of this vastly expensive infrastructure and give it time to develop. Yet finding the appropriate level of competition is vital, to ensure importance and sensitivity to the needs of society and consumers.