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Ooredoo Oman is helping the telecom sector envision and inaugurate a fully digital society by investing in people and spearheading groundbreaking technology projects. Telecom Review had the exclusive opportunity to speak with newly appointed CEO Bassam Yousef Al Ibrahim about the telco’s continued growth, its new products and solutions, and its outlook for Oman’s digital economy, among other insights.

Congratulations on your new leadership role! Can you share with us your vision for steering Ooredoo Oman to success?

Transformation is occurring across the sector, and I have joined Ooredoo Oman at a time when things are moving full steam ahead. This remains a long-term focus for us, along with providing an unrivaled customer experience and journey. With the solid foundations already laid, I have a strong platform from which to extend our growth and digital leadership. I’m very much looking forward to the next steps in our journey.

We will continue to lead the digital space and, through our multi-award-winning App and innovative products and services, upgrade every customer’s world. This extends to corporate customers in the public and private sectors, who look to us for leading ICT solutions, services that can be flexed to meet changing needs and state-of-the-art technology, not to mention a great network that extends countrywide.

Our technology strategy focuses on networks and innovation. We were one of the first countries in the region to have nationwide 5G coverage, with 80% of Oman’s population connected and ambitious plans for an extended roll-out over the coming year. We’re also focused on upgrading our solutions and services and enhancing our business support systems and ever-expanding ICT capabilities and solutions, which are putting us well ahead of the curve.

Ooredoo Oman was recently named Oman’s Most Trusted Brand in the Telecommunications category. Our commitment to fostering a customer-centric approach and meeting the ever-evolving needs of our customers is central to being trusted by the public, and this is an area we will keep building on to remain at the forefront of the development of Oman and support communities across the nation.

Ooredoo Oman delivered a solid performance in 2022. What steps will you take to continue this growth in 2023 and beyond?

2022 was an important year in terms of recovering post-COVID, and we had a positive year aligned with growth in the national economy. We anticipate that the forthcoming year will see further economic growth as new avenues for expansion are created across the country. Telecommunications is the backbone of an increasingly digitally advanced society, and we envisage continued growth in several areas of our business in 2023 and beyond.

At the heart of our growth plans are our cutting-edge products, services and solutions, as well as network expansion. Ooredoo has a robust strategy to ensure the organization is future-proofed and well-placed to leverage our technology, partnerships and experience for success. With so many aspects of people’s lives now online, the demand for customizable solutions and a fast, reliable network is always increasing. That means the role of robust connectivity has never been more important, alongside constant innovation, and we have shouldered this responsibility with pride.

Indeed, it is more evident in a country like Oman, where we have remote communities that need to be connected to enable education, business, commerce and even entertainment. We are at the cutting edge of this market, and this ongoing digital transformation has the power to inspire and drive the changes we can envision as well as put in place the foundations for those we cannot yet imagine.

Ooredoo Oman consistently introduces innovative products and concepts. What new products and solutions will the telco continue to develop to respond to the unique challenges customers face today?

Our key products and services will continue to provide our customers with a seamless omni-channel digital experience. We’ll be upgrading our core business and leveraging digital platforms to stay on top of customers’ ever-changing lifestyles, provide them with a diversity of services and keep on top of global trends.

We’re all about giving our customers more choice, more customizability, and better value than ever. We do this by constantly innovating our services and the way we connect with them. One of our major achievements in 2022 was the launch of our business eShop and a major revamp of our consumer eShop. The result was clear, with an increase in online sales of 300% in Q4. We also offered low installment rates on smartphones when subscribed to any Shahry plan, making the most sought-after devices even more accessible. Devices have been something of a game changer for us also, and our sales have grown exponentially over the last year, with our iPhone 14 launch proving hugely popular. This is definitely a continued focus for us this year, and there will be some exciting device deals for customers in 2023.

At the core of our digital focus is the Ooredoo App. We have updated the platform to be bigger and better than ever, making life easier for users wherever and whenever they need it. Customers can manage their subscriptions, receive instant updates on Ooredoo’s promotions and services, gain access to the Nojoom Rewards Program, and even order an eSIM replacement. Both Hala prepaid and Shahry postpaid users can now also use the App to transfer credit internationally directly to family and friends. And there’s so much more! As the first telecoms app launched in Oman, we have used customer feedback to innovate and provide a full range of actions and options to meet every need. We will continue to focus on evolving our App with the aim of optimizing our customer experience.

Indeed, our customers have driven much of what we have focused on over the last year, and this will ramp up during the current year. They increasingly expect the products and services they use to be personalized for them; they expect customer satisfaction and engagement through the whole range of digital channels, and we aim to meet that expectation and even exceed it.

The “always on” customer has telecoms technology at the heart of their everyday lives, and this has been the driving force behind our newly launched “voice of the customer” (VOC) program, which has transformed customer engagement and customer-centricity across the company. This and other initiatives tackle the customer experience from the inside out, across all touchpoints and look closely at customer feedback to shape and drive excellence. In this way, we can be more responsive to customer challenges and are constantly in touch with fast-changing customer needs.

Telecommunications is a critical component of digital transformation. How will Ooredoo strive to deliver the right communications infrastructure to help SoHos, SMEs, corporates, governments and end users digitalize?

We have always been committed to driving and upgrading digital transformation in Oman, aligning with Oman’s 2040 Vision, and taking the country into the next phase of digital leadership. Our commitment to our customers and the community is the driving force behind our aim for continual improvement and innovation, and we look forward to taking them on an upgraded journey with us to this end.

As a national telecoms infrastructure company, we’ll be building on our existing diversified ICT portfolio in a new era of hyper-connectivity, driven by broadband, mobile, and digital technologies such as smartphone devices, big data, cloud and IoT. Governments across the Middle East, especially in the GCC, have launched ambitious national transformation plans, which focus on enabling ICT and digital transformation technologies, in which we play a key part.

We have already taken the step to evolve from a telecom provider to one of Oman’s leading ICT service providers, and our full and growing ICT portfolio is in line with our customers’ increasingly sophisticated needs. We provide holistic solutions alongside a variety of specialist partners across ICT, IoT and technology.

We also lead the market in IoT, providing connectivity to over 600,000 things using our state-of-the-art cellular and LoRaWAN IoT networks and hosting major IoT software. With the growth of smart metering, smart lights and mobile PoS machines, Ooredoo managed to capture the lion’s share by adding 95K new connections in 2022.

To strengthen our relationships with our corporate clients, we have held networking events with private sector and public and government sector organizations, giving them a more detailed view of how we can support their goals and provide services to help on their ongoing digitalization journey. More of these collaborative sessions are planned as we look to expand our footprint and highlight the possibilities created by Ooredoo’s state-of-the-art ICT solutions to more sectors. At this stage, within our B2B portfolio, digital plans now constitute around 10% of the Business postpaid base, and this number is growing.

We are also ahead of global market trends by participating with and learning from leaders from around the world. The Ooredoo Group has already participated in the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, to gain an insight into how other markets are developing, and the Civil Defence and Ambulance Conference and Exhibition in Oman to understand and showcase how technology can help agencies nationwide be better prepared in the event of an emergency and able to respond quickly in order to reduce the impact.

Oman is an emerging tech hub in the Middle East. What is your outlook for the country’s digital economy growth, and what is Ooredoo Oman's commitment to this effort? What significant contributions are in place to become more sustainable, secure, reliable and inclusive as a telecom operator?

Oman’s population is expected to continue growing, and we have a fast-expanding economy in the light of Vision 2040 and with the help of the government, which has taken bold decisions to drive development and prosperity. The demand for high-quality telecommunications services will increase. This, alongside an improvement in the economy and the implementation of Oman’s 2040 Vision, will also attract further investment, helping to bring planned mega-projects to life, which will also increase demand for high-speed, high-capacity technologies. The development of our ICT solutions and the rollout of 5G are central to this plan and will be the main area of commitment to the nation.

We also anticipate even greater demands from our customers. The mobile and fixed market is crowded with multiple players, which fuels competition and sparks creativity for further innovation and value in the market. With this in mind, mobile postpaid consumer revenue will continue its strong performance with the rapid expansion of the customer base.

Another area where there is room for opportunity and we are investing is our wholesale portfolio, and over the next year, we need to lobby with concerned parties and key players to gain a share in the mega-projects and developments associated with Vision 2040 to become a technologically-advanced and knowledge-based economy.

In 2022, the company launched the building of three new data centers. Bringing these online will be a significant addition to our network capabilities and support business growth with secure in-country hosting, recovery and cloud services. Two of the data centers will support cable landing facilities for “2Africa” (2AF), the longest subsea cable system ever deployed, as Ooredoo joins a global consortium of communications operators in connecting 33 countries in Africa, Asia and Europe with a submarine cable spanning 45,000 km.

Ultimately, the sector must continue to embrace the goal of becoming a fully digital society. By investing in people and leading technology projects, we are helping to drive this and are contributing to society and the economy, both now and into the future.

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