It has become something of a cliché to refer to the telecommunications industry as fast changing. Change has been a constant in this sector for decades.
But we are now living in a time when long-predicted changes are taking place before our eyes.
We are currently seeing a sector-wide transformation as mobile data overtakes voice traffic on our networks. Qatar’s smartphone penetration stands at around 75 per cent and people’s smart devices play a major role in their daily lives, supporting financial services, connecting them with healthcare and supporting their ambitions.
This creates challenges for operators, since it requires us to build stronger networks, acquire more spectrum and continue to grow as we manage changes in the revenues and profit margins of our product mix. It also creates some remarkable opportunities.
By building better networks and deploying 4G+, 5G and fibre operators can deliver a number of key user experience benefits. These include significantly faster data speeds and ultra-low latency (the time it takes for one device to send a packet of data to another).
More importantly, this investment supports the development of the ‘Internet of Things’. Better networks will deliver the capacity to connect millions and ultimately billions of devices to each other, and provide us with more flexibility to assign bandwidth depending on the needs of the application and user.
This is already enabling operators to offer a host of smart services to our customers, from smart metering solutions to measure energy use in the home, to smart manufacturing services that provide complete control over factory output.
The next generation of smart cities are building this advanced network infrastructure into their foundations, creating areas which use technology solutions to address mobile, transport, energy sustainability, infrastructure, governance and security issues.
As cities across the world deal with a growing range of issues including over-population, traffic congestion, pollution and high levels of energy consumption, ‘smart cities’ are emerging as a significant opportunity to enrich the lives of the population.
In particular, there is strong demand in emerging economies in the Middle East and North Africa region and South East Asia, which are key markets for Ooredoo. According to research group IHS Technology, the number of smart cities worldwide will quadruple by 2025 – from 21 in 2013 to at least 88.
What we are seeing is the convergence of telecommunications and information technology. Across the region, the IT services market is growing nearly twice as fast as the traditional telecoms connectivity sector. For nations like Qatar, which is working hard to build its knowledge-based economy, this convergence is delivering impressive results.
Throughout 2016, we are going to continue to see more demand for data, predominantly as people see the impact of the next generation of smart services. In particular, we see that smart city technology and machine-to-machines services are increasingly being deployed across Qatar.
A great example of this is the range of automated smart fleet services that are helping reduce congestion and ease traffic in Doha.
For Qatar, the development of an enhanced technology ecosystem creates a number of important benefits. As well as contributing to the growth of the knowledge-based economy, which is part of Qatar National Vision 2030, it will also open new opportunities for ambitious young people looking to build a career in IT.
In addition to Qatar’s businesses, we want to work more closely with Qatar’s governmental entities to help streamline current IT systems and contribute to the service levels provided to the people.
Looking at the big picture, this current period is extremely positive for the telecommunications sector as a whole.
There are definitely challenges. But we are seeing a real divergence between those companies that are delivering what customers want – and growing accordingly and those that are not.
Waleed Al Sayed is chief executive officer of Ooredoo Qatar and deputy CEO of Ooredoo Group